19th June 2007. Genius.
Computer science sparked the digital age and considered the third major leap in human technology from the agricultural revolution of 8th-5thc BCE and the industrial revolution 1750-1850.
One of the key figures in the new technology was Alan Turing who Today in 2007 had a life-sized statue, sculpted by Stephen Kettle, at Bletchley Park, where he did so much to decode the German Enigma codes.(1)
With his father, a civil-servant in India, Alan was placed in the care of a retired colonel in Hastings in Sussex. Being sent to Sherborne Public School at 13, he endured the typical rigid curriculum in classics and humanities.
His headmaster said, ‘If he is solely to be a science specialist he is wasting his time at public school’, thus with little encouragement for those mathematically inclined such as Turing, not surprisingly he came bottom in the likes of Scripture.
Gaining a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge he came under the influence of Max Newman who introduced him to mathematical logic in 1935.
This sparked Turing’s ideas on artificial intelligence and what it meant for humans to follow instructions, which led to his Computable Numbers and ideas of his Universal Machine.
Turing was little known in the outside world, the secrets of Bletchley, not to be generally released until the 1980.s. However an article in the Surrey Comet in 1946, reported on, ‘some of the feats to be performed by Britain’s new electronic brain developed at National Physics Laboratory (NPL) at Teddington by Dr AM Turing (34).
Turing’s future seemed assured, but not to be, as the rigid management at NPL meant nothing was built in 1947/8 and all ideas from this period, including the beginning of computer languages, were lost when he resigned in 1948.
Another factor was the secrecy about his war-time, code-breaking, and opposition meant he couldn’t draw on his immense experience, being regarded as purely a theoretical university mathematician.
He did not promote his ideas effectively if he had written papers on the theory and practice of computers in 1947 instead of developing new ideas on artificial intelligence next step, or even the very thing which made him interested in computers in the first place.
After 1948 almost everyone had forgotten that he had drawn up a design for a computer in 1945/6. (see above).
Even H.A. Max Newman, who had worked with Turing at Bletchley, in his biography, neglected Turing’s origination of the computer, seeing it as a trivial off-shoot for a pure mathematician.
In 1946 Turing saw it would be possible to use his ACE computer, by a remote user, over the telephone link, a combination of computer and telecoms, commonplace today.
After Turing resigned from NPL there was a change of management, which meant that the ACE programme could go ahead and a working computer on his original designs was operating in 1950. Called Pilot ACE it was a scaled down version of Turing’s.(2)
In 1948 Turing went to Manchester University to join a remarkable team of future computer development experts where the future was born including Kilborne’s ‘Baby’.
Turing died in June 1954, he had been convicted of gross indecency in 1952, and chose to be chemically castrated rather than imprisoned, but later committed suicide by eating a cyanide dosed apple. He was aged 41.
He was given a Royal Pardon in 2013.
(1) On 23rd June 1998 on what would have been Turing’s 86th birthday a plaque was unveiled at his birthplace Warrington Crescent London, now the Colonnade Hotel.
(2) One of Turing’s colleagues at NPL was Donald W Davies who pioneered the principle of ‘Packet Switching’ leading to ARPANET and the Internet.
bbc:iwonder. Andrew Hodges. Turing and creation of modern computer.
bbc.co.uk.timeline.Dr. Andrew Hodges.
all about circuits.com.