I’ve come across a few more items of interest in connection with the Alan Turing Centenary. The Official Google Blog has a post marking Turing’s 100th birthday, last Saturday, June 23. In addition to discussing some of Turing’s work, it describes Google’s involvement in the Bletchley Park restoration project, and gives a brief overview of the recently-opened Turing exhibit at the Science Museum.
The BBC News site has added a couple of additional essays about Turing. The first of these includes reminiscences of Turing from two of colleagues. One, Mike Woodger, served as Turing’s assistant at the National Physical Laboratory after WW II.
Mike Woodger worked as an assistant to Alan Turing in 1946 – the year Turing, fresh from his wartime work code-breaking, joined the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington. Turing left after a year, but Mr Woodger stayed on to work on the completion of the Pilot Ace Computer, which Turing had helped to design.
The other colleague was Captain Jerry Roberts, a linguist and code-breaker at Bletchley Park from 1941 to 1945. He remembers the huge importance of Turing’s breaking the German naval Enigma.
Up to the time when he broke it, Britain had been losing tremendous tonnages of shipping, including all our food imports.
If we had gone on losing the same amount of shipping, in another four to six months Britain would have lost the war.
The next BBC essay is by the scriptwriter, Graham Moore, who reviews some of Turing’s appearances in fiction and biography.
If Alan Turing had not existed, would we have had to invent him? The question seems to answer itself: Alan Turing very much did exist, and yet we have persisted in inventing him still.
He mentions the 1986 play, Breaking the Code, by Hugh Whitemore. I had a chance to see this during its run on Broadway, with Derek Jacobi playing the role of Turing, and enjoyed it very much. Apparently the BBC has also made a film version. In a slightly different vein, there is Neal Stephenson’s novel, Cryptonomicon.
Stephenson uses historical fiction’s ability to conjure hypothetical, counterfactual realities to play a great game of “what if” with the Turing legend.
I’ve read Cryptonomicon, and recommend it highly. I’m not familiar with the other works Moore mentions, but they’re now on my list to look into.
Finally, for those readers who may have a DIY itch that needs scratching, it is possible to build a Turing machine out of LEGOs.
In honor of Alan Turing’s hundredth birthday, Davy Landman, Jereon van den Bos, and Paul Klint built a Turing Machine out of LEGOs. And if you like, you can build one too.