The Turing Enigma

It is just over 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing, and it is becoming apparent in retrospect how much this man, who died at the age of 42, contributed to our modern world.

Turing is well known to everyone who studies Computer Science, as the person after whom the “Universal Turing Machine” is named, but few realise that he single-handedly created the computer technology we know of today, and created the stored program computer before the Americans created theirs. This fact remained hidden in the UK archives concerning their war-time code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park and was only made public relatively recently. Turing’s work was featured in the movie “Enigma” which concerned the breaking of the codes of the German Enigma machine, which many believe won the war for the allies.

Turing is also the original creator of artificial intelligence as well as the founder of the original ideas that became neural networks, and it may be that the elements of his PhD thesis are still to be used to create new generations of computing machinery.

We owe a significant amount to Turing and history will reflect his greatness long after the others have come and gone and been forgotten about. It is my prediction that he will be seen in many centuries in the future as one of the top scientists of all time, alongside Archimedes and Netwon.

I recommend a simple start to getting to know about his work better. Check the site www.alanturing.net, the home of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing, which contains digital reproductions of much of Turing’s work. Another site of interest is the Turing Archive at Cambridge University, where Turing was a Fellow.

If you have the opportunity, also get hold of and read, cover to cover, the recent book “Turing : Pioneer of the Information Age”, by Jack Copeland, the Director of the Turing Archive. This is a good place to start to get to know our past and how we got to this place where digital computing is perhaps the most predominant activity in the whole of modern civilisation, given that all mobile phones, and much modern equipment, contains some computing device at its core.