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06 May 2012

Alan Mathison Turing Centenary Conference at University of Cambridge, England / 18-23 June 2012

Click poster to enlarge.

Boyoboy this ought to be quite the corroboree. I would chop off one or two digits to be there. I don't care how little of the lectures I understood. And it would be my second visit to the Holy Scientific & Mathematical Shrine of Cambridge (my first was a pilgrimage to worship Isaac Newton).

If you like the way World War II, at least the Western Hemisphere part of it, turned out, this is one of the big guys to thank. He led the Bletchley Park team of cryptographers who broke the German Enigma machine code in which all military information was sent. 

The problem required the design and construction of the world's first high-speed electronic digital computer. Breaking Enigma is specifically credited with rescuing Allied shipping convoys across the North Atlantic from German U-Boat (Untersee-Boot) wolf packs. The Germans were so confident in their amazing Enigma code machine that they never imagined it was possible to decrypt it. But through most of the war, Bletchley Park could read all the German military radio signals, eventually with a 24-hour turnaround time.

Turing's work expanded on early Enigma code-breaking solutions by Polish mathematicians and logicians, who built electromechanical computing machines called "bombes," because they went tick-tick-tick. When Poland fell, their work was smuggled to the British, and Turing's supervision.

Today Turing is regarded as the theoretical patriarch of digital computation.

A wonderful theater drama about Turing's remarkable life and achievements is called "Breaking the Code," and perhaps the Centenary will resurrect new performances of it. If so, don't miss it.


PatFromCH said...

Not only is he the granddad of modern computing but also the first who mused on artificial intelligence. Here you can see Turing plus current happenings in AI:

James J. Olson said...

One notes that the British Government treated Dr. Turing rather badly because of his private life, and has only recently apologised for it. Yet another contribution to the Well Being of the World made by one of my tribe.

Vleeptron Dude said...

In the best of all possible worlds -- as Professor Pangloss described ours -- injustice should not happen in the first place, or, having happened, is rectified fully and mechanisms put in place to assure injustice does not occur again.

Clearly Turing's life is some of the saddest evidence that ours is not the best of all possible worlds. First he played an enormous part in the Allied victory over the Nazis. Then the British homosexuality laws (dubbed "the Blackmailer's Charter") forced him to undergo sex hormone injections, he grew breasts, and finally bit into a cyanide-laced apple ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was his favorite movie).

The thanks of a grateful nation.

But it is Turing's body of brilliant discoveries and writings from the dawn of the computer age that suggest that ignorance, injustice, fear and hate are at worst only temporary human aberrations. Lots of people don't even know Turing's sexual identity. But decade by decade, 100 years after his birth, he has become world-reknowned as the Ghandi of Computers, a figure shaping our leading-edge world as profoundly as Einstein did.

"The Blackmailer's Charter" was finally and belatedly ended in the UK and homosexuals ceased being hounded as criminals.

And at Turing's alma mater this June, the world -- gay and straight alike -- will make pilgrimage to do homage to him. Wish I could be there just to drink it all in. And buy the t-shirt and get the coffee mug.

James J. Olson said...

I shall lift a drink in Turing's name.

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