5 April 2010

Alan Turing, Mathematician (1912-54), Wilmslow, Cheshire

(Of course, it's dangerous talking about mathematics when you're not a mathematician, so please read the comments below too. And thanks for the corrections!)

Alan Turing was an English mathematician and computer scientist perhaps best known for cracking the Enigma code, and for his work on the Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE, the first programable computer in the world.

Turing was prosecuted for 'gross indecency' (homosexuality) in 1952, and was forced to receive hormone treatment or be imprisoned. In 1954, he died in bed at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, England, after eating a cyanide-laced apple. The Blue plaque on the wall of his semi-detached house (on the left of the photo) reads 'Alan Turing | 1912-54 | Founder of computer science and cryptographer, whose work was key to breaking the wartime Enigma codes, lived and died here.'

There is an Alan Turing Way in Manchester, and statue of him, sculpted by Glyn Hughes, is in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. In his hand he holds an apple.


NIC1138 said...

I'm a big fan of Turing, but there are some misconceptions on this text. First of all, the "cracking" of Enigma should be attributed to the Polish cryptanalysts, specially Marian Adam Rejewski. The British contributions came only later. And the main task for Colossus was not deciphering messages produced by the Enigma, but by the more sophisticated machine, the Lorenz cypher.

The ACE was also never built, and claims of what was the _first_ computer (project) to have this or that characteristic should always be avoided...

Turing was still a great pioneer of computation, of course, other than having given crucioal contributions to the theory of computation, logic and other stuff. We don't need to give him even more credit than he's due!

pmt6sbc said...

The situation is more complicated even than NIC1138 describes. It is true that the key role played by the Poles is often not acknowledged. But there were a number of different incarnations of the Enigma, involving added wheels and more secure procedures - see pages 68-75 of "Station X" by Michael Smith. As well as the development of new decoding techniques, Turing made a huge contribution to the design of the Bombes which made the computational work practicable.

pmt6sbc said...

Also, the ACE certainly was built - though a smaller and simpler version than Turing's, called the Pilot ACE computer, after Turing had got fed up with the frustrations of getting funding and staffing to implement his design, and gone to Manchester. See the BBC item on it at:
"The machine ran for the first time on 10 May 1950. By modern standards it was sluggish but in its day was the fastest in the world."

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Many thanks for these useful comments/corrections, and apologies for not getting back sooner. I'm supposed to receive emails on comments, but I've suddenly realized that I've not changed an old email address that Virgin crashed!

martin connor said...

Not to forget his other work. Like his work on Morphogenesis. I just attended the exhibition at the Manchester Museum which covers in detail the work of Turing. It is a fascinating exhibit and will only be there until 18th November. If you havent yet been, I would recommend a visit.