Alan Turing History Evening
20th April 2015
On 20th April 2015 we were lucky enough to enjoy a talk on the celebrated mathematician Alan Turing from Neil Sheldon, a retired teacher, former vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society and current vice-chair of the UK Linguistics Olympiad.
Neil addressed a substantial History Group audience, and local Alderley resident (and History Group member) Ruth Williams shared with us the fact that she knew Alan personally, since her husband had been at Kings College Cambridge with him.
Turing regularly visited Ruth and her family for Sunday lunch on Macclesfield Road in Alderley, and Ruth showed the audience a rowing trophy signed by the Cambridge University rowing team, which included her husband Dennis and Alan Turing.
Neil Sheldon told us how genius mathematician Alan Turing came to Manchester to work at the university and became programming expert on the new Manchester Mark I, a computer that engineers Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn became famous for building, and which could be regarded as probably the world’s first modern-style computer.
Although Turing had come up with the idea of the computer well before the Second World War, it was the code-breaking equipment (with which he was involved in designing) at Bletchley Park that really showed people the direction in which computing was going.
However, at the time of the Manchester Mark I’s development, Williams and Kilburn didn’t know about Bletchley - they only knew what Turing, and Turing’s boss, fellow mathematician Max Newman, were allowed to tell them.
It was Max Newman who was awarded the money to initiate the Manchester project, with Newman and Turing sharing credit for the Mark I alongside Williams and Kilburn - even though the two mathematicians had nothing to do with the brilliance of the engineering design
Turing’s research work and studies are widely credited with helping to break the German Enigma code during the Second World War – and this breakthrough helped the Allies substantially in defeating the Nazis. After the War, Turing became known as a father of modern-day computer science and artificial intelligence, thanks to his associations with the computer development work of Manchester University.
Tragically, Alan Turing committed suicide at the age of 41 because of persecution and a subsequent criminal conviction following discovery of his homosexuality.