Alan Turing-A Manchester Innovator

Posted on: August 18, 2009

At the end of the last century ,Time Magazine voted Alan Turing one of the top 20 scientists and thinkers of the 20th century.

Listing him alongside well known names such as Albert Einstein,the Wright Brothers,Sigmund Freud and John Maynard Keynes,the magazine recognised Turing as an innovator in mathematics and learning ,setting his work alongside innovations in space and time.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

In 1937 the young Cambridge Undergraduate came up with an idea for a machine,a simple mechanical contraption,that would be capable of scanning instructions,the output of which could replicate logical human thought.

Yet as the magazine points out

Turing’s 1937 paper changed the direction of his life and embroiled a shy and vulnerable man ever more directly in the affairs of the world outside, ultimately with tragic consequences.

The Turing Machine has been toted as the forerunner of today’s computer but Turing would be the first to acknowledge that his ideas of capturing data were only one small part of that process.

Turing’s ideas became known as the Turing test.This envisioned a person sat at a computer terminal in a room, exchanging messages with a computer in another room. If the first person cannot tell if he’s communicating with a computer instead of a human, the computer is intelligent.

The war interrupted further development of the machine.Turing though became an invaluable part of the secret work at Bletchley Park where he was involved in designing a machine that could decipher at high speed Nazi codes to U-boats in the North Atlantic.

Offered the chance to be involved in the building of his machine after the war,it took up an offer to work at Manchester University where the prototype was built in 1948.

His work though on the machine was restricted to creating a working manual.

Instead he developed his mathematical theory of morphogenesis,the theory of growth and form in biology.

Tragedy was to intervene and Turing was arrested and brought to trial in 1952 after the authorities learnt of his sexual relationship with a young Manchester man.

Unrepentant,he was given the choice of prison or probation with the condition that he undergo chemical castration. He took the later choice but the process led to a downward spiral resulting in his suicide two years later.

Whether Manchester built the world’s first computer will be argued over for many years to come but Turing can claim credit for understanding the universality inherent in the stored-program computer.


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