Last October, I posted a note here about the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the English mathematician and pioneer computer scientist. Turing was a central figure in the successful British effort, at Bletchley Park, to break coded messages produced by the Germans’ Enigma cipher machine. Some of Turing’s theoretical papers on cryptanalysis have been declassified only recently.
Network World has an article about some additional activities planned by the Association for Computing Machinery [ACM] around the anniversary, which is June 23. Vint Cerf of Google, a noted computer scientist in his own right, is president-elect of the ACM and chair of the organization’s commemorative events, points out how fundamental Turing’s work is to modern computer science.
“Alan had such a broad impact on so many aspects of computer science,” says Cerf. “The deep notion of computability is so fundamental to everything we do in computing.”
In designing a hypothetical computing device, which we now know as a Turing machine, Turing provided a framework for analysing the possibilities and limitations of mechanical, and electronic, computing devices.
Since 1966, the ACM has given out its annual Turing Award, sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of computer science, to “an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community”. (Vint Cerf received a Turing Award in 2004.) This year, at an event to be held in San Francisco June 15-16, the ACM is trying to assemble all living Turing Award recipients, and will feature talks and panel discussions on Turing’s life and work.
Turing, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the [20th] Century, would have been an important figure even if the war had never occurred. It is good to see that his contributions are being more fully appreciated.