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Donald “Duckmouse” Michie - AI man and prophet

Donald “Duckmouse” Michie was a young Classicist when he was recruited to Bletchley Park in 1942 to break German war codes. One of the few persons at Bletchley capable of playing chess on Alan Turing’s level, Michie “was put into Hut F, working to crack the Wehrmacht's ‘Tunny’ machine, which encoded material more sensitive than that carried by the now celebrated ‘Enigma’. The team's success gave the Allies access for the first time to German army situation reports in the run-up to D-Day, with invaluable insights into troop dispositions in France” (Telegraph obituary).

Donald Michie’s contribution was to simplify the working of ‘Colossus’, the electro-mechanical analytical device so that it could be operated by persons who were not mathematicians. His ability to do so was prophetic of his future calling.

After Alan Turing’s death, Michie went into Artificial Intelligence (AI). In 1966 he founded Edinburgh University's Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception, and as Professor of MI helped to bring about the world of robots, computer games and search engines. He produced the innovative MENACE (an early games machine) and FREDERICK, a prototype robot for industrial applications. His prophecy in 1968 that computers would be used by millions of people to tap information at home proved correct.

In 1983 he unveiled Expert-Ease, “a program that reasoned like Sherlock Holmes and. . .could evaluate property for a developer, maximise farm profits or plan domestic activities for a Sunday afternoon - first asking if the mother-in-law would be around” (Telegraph).

Is this program still available? I would certainly like to ask it a few questions.

Thrice married, Michie was a loyal friend. He chaired the AM Turing Trust from 1957 to 1997.

As we mention below, a classical education has been a very good thing for many Britons.