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Computing museums team up for Turing centenary

Computing museums team up for Turing centenary

Events are planned on three continents to celebrate Alan Turing's centenary this year.

The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park has announced plans to team up with two other top computing museums to celebrate the centenary of Alan Turing, considered by many to be the father of computer science.

The museum has entered into a partnership with the Computer History Museum in California and the Heinz Nixdorf Museum in Germany to mark the historic milestone. As part of the event, three speakers will be invited to discuss their take on Turing's contribution to computing as his posthumous hundredth birthday is celebrated in memoriam.

George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral, will be first to speak on the 7th of March at the Computer History Museum in California. This is to be followed by a discussion with computer historian Professor Simon Lavington at Bletchley Park on the 26th of April. Finally, Dr Horst Zuse, son of noted computing pioneer Konrad Zuse, and Dr Paul Rojas will each chair a lecture on Turing's influence at the Heinz Nixdorf Museum on the 26th of May.

Turing's influence on modern computing is not to be underestimated. During his work at Bletchley Park as part of the code breaking efforts of World War II, Turing worked on what is generally considered to be one of the first true 'computers,' while his paper 'On Computable Numbers' is believed to be the first example of modern computer science theory.

Turing's most famous achievement is his thoughts on artificial intelligence, which gave birth to the Turing Test: a means by which a computer could be given a chance to masquerade as a human during a text-based chat session as a means of gauging 'intelligence.' This concept would give rise to CAPTCHAs - Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart - and the Voigt-Kampff test in Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, filmed as Blade Runner.

Sadly, Turing would commit suicide by way of cyanide-laced apple in June 1954 following his conviction for homosexuality - illegal in the UK at the time - and subsequent chemical castration. As much of his work was carried out in secret, it would be years before the public learned of his contributions to both the war effort and science in general.

Videos of the events from all three museums will be made available online, while members of the public are invited to submit questions for the first event via the @computerhistory Twitter account using the hashtag #turingscathedral.

7 Comments

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Bakes 29th February 2012, 21:00 Quote
I thought I'd just add a comment to further educate anyone who cares.

I could be wrong, but from what I know Turing did relatively little work on artificial intelligence. We frequently hear about the Turing Test, but there are many theoreticians who have conjectured before their time (for example, John Nash of the Nash Equilibrium conjectured public key cryptography decades before it was established by Rivest, Hellman, Diffie etc). The Turing Test is likely more well known to sci-fi buffs, due to the numerous films which mention the Turing Test (of which some are mentioned).

Almost certainly his concept of a Turing Machine, as well as the Turing-Church thesis have been far more important to the development of modern computer science.

The former defines the conditions for something to be called a computer. Turing defined it in terms of states and a sequential access tape - though this definition is mathematically identical to a machine with random access -- for reasons that should be obvious. All modern computers and programming languages are examples of Universal Turing Machines (Turing Machines that take Turing Machines as their input). Thus far, no model of computation has been devised that can compute anything a Turing Machine cannot (see below).

The Turing-Church Thesis states that any algorithm can be computed on any Turing Machine. This is not a theorem of any kind, because the definition of an algorithm is relatively informal -- but the result is still extremely important. The knowledge that if there is an efficient solution to such problems as P=NP or integer factorisation, it can be implemented on current technology is certainly an important step towards deciding those goals.
LordPyrinc 3rd March 2012, 07:46 Quote
Quite a tragic ending for someone ahead of his time. No doubt he could have contributed much more to the field. At least his achievements are being honored now, albeit posthumously.
Gareth Halfacree 3rd March 2012, 11:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bakes
I could be wrong, but from what I know Turing did relatively little work on artificial intelligence (although his Wikipedia page certainly contains a paraphrasing of the sentence about CAPTCHAs).
I've only just noticed this, so let me clarify something: at no point during the creation of that article did I reference Wikipedia. Perhaps I should educate you a little: my name is Gareth Halfacree, an IT journalist who was responsible for raising the cash used by the Bletchley Park Trust to purchase the papers now known as the Turing-Newman Collection and on display at the Bletchley Park Codebreaking Museum.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive, but I resent the implication that I was copying from Wikipedia. Everything I wrote was from my personal knowledge of the subject.

I also note that you don't mention his work on morphogenesis, which was recently validated in new research. My reason for bringing that up: sure, there's more to Turing than was covered in the article - it's a news article, not a biography.
Ending Credits 3rd March 2012, 11:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
I've only just noticed this, so let me clarify something: at no point during the creation of that article did I reference Wikipedia. Perhaps I should educate you a little: my name is Gareth Halfacree, an IT journalist who was responsible for raising the cash used by the Bletchley Park Trust to purchase the papers now known as the Turing-Newman Collection and on display at the Bletchley Park Codebreaking Museum.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive, but I resent the implication that I was copying from Wikipedia. Everything I wrote was from my personal knowledge of the subject.

Oh, I thought I knew your name from somewhere (probably the bit-tech article). I visited the museam last summer (although not the first time I've visited). (On a very minor note, the house I used to live in was actually requesitioned in a similar way during the war, for training polish paratroopers; it was station XX, twenty, to bletchley park's station X). It's a good day out for anybody, there's a fair amount of stuff, not just the museam of computing.

It is true that turning was a Mathematician first and foremost although at that point in time Computer Science would probably come under that umbrella. If I had to make one observation it would be that actually the Poles did far more towards cracking the enigma than we did.
GeorgeStorm 3rd March 2012, 11:40 Quote
I went to Bletchley last year for the fireworks night, was given a tour during the day round the place.

Incredibly interesting, and I found out soooooo much I didn't know before, such as the massive help the Poles were.
Regardless of exactly how much he did etc, it's still terrible what happened to him.
Bakes 3rd March 2012, 13:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
I've only just noticed this, so let me clarify something: at no point during the creation of that article did I reference Wikipedia. Perhaps I should educate you a little: my name is Gareth Halfacree, an IT journalist who was responsible for raising the cash used by the Bletchley Park Trust to purchase the papers now known as the Turing-Newman Collection and on display at the Bletchley Park Codebreaking Museum.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive, but I resent the implication that I was copying from Wikipedia. Everything I wrote was from my personal knowledge of the subject.

I also note that you don't mention his work on morphogenesis, which was recently validated in new research. My reason for bringing that up: sure, there's more to Turing than was covered in the article - it's a news article, not a biography.

I apologize, the comment was rude.

I realize that the article was news, not a biography - my post was mainly to educate those who did not already know about some of Turing's work -- past Enigma and the Turing Test.

I didn't mention morphogenesis because I had not heard of Turing's work on it. He was clearly quite the polymath.
Gareth Halfacree 3rd March 2012, 17:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bakes
I apologize, the comment was rude.
Thank you. I appreciate the apology.
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