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Honoring Alan Turing, "Father of Computer Science" 230

Posted by samzenpus
from the happy-birthday dept.
alphadogg writes "Google's Vint Cerf and others are spearheading celebrations in Silicon Valley and the UK this month to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing's birth. 'The man challenged everyone's thinking,' says Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist, in an interview with Network World. 'He was so early in the history of computing, and yet so incredibly visionary about it.' Cerf — who is president-elect of the Association for Computing Machinery and general chair of that organization's effort to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary of Turing's birth on June 23 — says that it's tough to overstate the importance of Turing's role in shaping the world of modern computing. Turing's accomplishments included his breakthrough Turing machine, cracking German military codes during WWII and designing a digital multiplier called the Automated Computing Machine."
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Honoring Alan Turing, "Father of Computer Science"

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:54PM (#40288761)

    Okay, well that last one sounds a little more implausible than the rest--granted.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:01PM (#40288863)

    'The man challenged everyone's thinking,' says Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist, in an interview with Network World.

    No wonder he was driven to suicide. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing#Death [wikipedia.org]

    • by Relic of the Future (118669) <dales&digitalfreaks,org> on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:25PM (#40289107)
      Despite your implication, there is no "persecuted genius" (a /. reader wish-fulfillment dream for sure) story here. I mean, he was a genius, of that there is no doubt, and he was persecuted, but they weren't really connected. Even in his own lifetime his work was honored and well-received. Where the persecution comes in, is in the conviction for homosexual indecency, and having his security clearance (and thus, most of his ability to continue working) revoked, and being subjected to court-ordered chemical castration. But to know about that, you'd have to scroll up on the wikipedia page.
      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:28PM (#40289153)
        I think destroying someone's career because of his sexual orientation counts as persecution in most modern societies.
        • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:43PM (#40289283)

          I think destroying someone's career because of his sexual orientation counts as persecution in most modern societies.

          Indeed, but the question was whether or not he was persecuted for being a genius.
          He wasn't; he was persecuted for being gay... or to be more precise committing the then-crime of "gross indecency".

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        In his lifetime most of his wartime work was unknown and still very secret. He probably should have gotten a medal or award of some sort for his work but that would involve revealing secret information. His after war computer work was better known, but that was in a much smaller circle of academics and later in his life. As I heard it, as part of his depression after being convicted was that he believed his work would be tainted by association with a criminal and forgotten about.

        Af for the chemical castr

    • by fm6 (162816)

      If he actually did commit suicide (I have my doubts) it was related to his homosexuality and the legal persecution thereof. Which doesn't really have a lot to do with challenges to thinking. Perhaps another kind of challenge.

  • by Fwipp (1473271) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:01PM (#40288865)

    I wonder if they'll mention his persecution by the British government for being gay. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_turing#Conviction_for_indecency [wikipedia.org]
    How we reward our heroes in this world...

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Judging by the program [acm.org] for the meatspace event next week, it looks like no. Not even the abstract for the "Turing the Man" panel, which is probably the only one it'd really fit in, mentions his persecution by the British government. The description of what precisely the panel will discuss about his life is vague enough that it might be mentioned at the actual event, though.

    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:57PM (#40289409) Homepage

      A few months ago the British government decided not to pardon Turing [bbc.com] for his "crime" of being gay.

      Their reasoning for rejecting the pardon request seems reasonable:

      "However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times."

      So it seems that's been addressed by the British government recently. Even though full equality may be a few steps away -- and we shouldn't whitewash that fact -- it's also important to acknowledge that there was far more to Turing than his sexuality.

      • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:23PM (#40289679)

        I love the idea of leaving these illegal prosecutions on the books. It seems to inspire a false sense of closure when people are posthumously pardoned. About the only time it's tangibly relevant is when someone has a conviction on their records that blocks opportunities like employment.

        • Personally, I understand their point of view. It's arguable better not to give a false sense of clousre (Turing is dead and beyond caring now) than to whitewash history. Closure means moving on, and it's best not to move on and forget what caused it in the first place.

          • by danlip (737336)

            A posthumous pardon isn't whitewashing history. It's an official admission from the government that they were wrong and a great injustice was done. If anything it draws attention to the injustice, which I would say is a good thing. Especially since we still live in an era where too many people think that gay people should still be prosecuted/persecuted.

        • by Capsaicin (412918) *

          I love the idea of leaving these illegal prosecutions on the books.

          What was illegal about the prosecution?! Was he not convicted of a crime by due process of law upon evidence and beyond reasonable doubt?

          The point of Lord McNally was making was that just because the particular offence "now seems both cruel and absurd," does not mean it was not at that point in history a criminal offence. That being the case a pardon is not appropriate. What is appropriate is that we recognise the criminal law ought not

        • by tqk (413719)

          I love the idea of leaving these illegal prosecutions on the books.

          The prosecution wasn't illegal; his actions were. That's the point.

          About the only time it's tangibly relevant is when someone has a conviction on their records that blocks opportunities like employment.

          As in Turing's case, or Oppenheimer's, or Socrates?

          "The nail that stands up will be hammered down." -- Japanese proverb.

          We're all just fuel in other people's machines, and those machines appear to run best on prejudice. Humans are generally incapable of minding their own business. We all seem to think we know better what any other one ought to be doing. Queue Rodney King.

      • Even though full equality may be a few steps away

        Equality in what sense?

        • by MrEricSir (398214)

          Well I can't say much on the topic because I don't live in the UK, but they still don't allow gay couples to get married, for example.

          • Well I can't say much on the topic because I don't live in the UK, but they still don't allow gay couples to get married, for example.

            Please read http://frexpression.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/a-gay-man-decries-gay-rights/ [wordpress.com]. Its author is an atheist homosexual.

            • by MrEricSir (398214)

              Why would anyone waste their time reading a bunch of divisive partisan nonsense? That blog post is about as relevant as anything Glenn Beck or DailyKos has to say on the issue.

              • Arguments stand on their own.
                Ad hominem attacks are shameful.

                • Why don't you ever try to quote your arguments, or paraphrase the gist of them? Why do you just place cryptic links full of wordspam agreeing with your world-veiw? Here's a link to a concept I think you're using here [rationalwiki.org]. Argumentum ad tl:dr basically means you're burying your opponent in reams of text that could meaningfully be expressed in a few sentences.

                  An easy summary of what your link has to say is this:"I am a gay man, and therefore I speak for all gays; however, those gosh darn gay activists on the news

      • by tqk (413719)

        So it seems that's been addressed by the British government recently.

        The English language can be astonishing in its power, yes? To say so much, yet say so little.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Its important to note that, in 2006 The british labor government pardoned, all british servicemen in WW1 who were executed. I believe this was to do with them recognising that shell shock was largely not cowardice, but was in fact an illness.

        So pardons are possible.

  • by GoNINzo (32266) <GoNINzo@yahoo . c om> on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:05PM (#40288899) Homepage Journal
    I've requested a Google doodle for Alan Turing's birthday for a couple years now [google.com]. I'm just glad to hear they'll finally put one up.
  • Not just computers (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:13PM (#40288981) Homepage

    Turing didn't just help with practical computers. A lot of his ideas mattered in many other fields. For example, his idea of the Turing machine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine [wikipedia.org] and related work was vital to a lot of other fields such as the rise of theoretical computer science, and even as far as the study of equations with integer solutions (called Diophantine equations) in the form of Hilbert's Tenth Problem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilbert's_tenth_problem [wikipedia.org].

    Essentially, Hilbert asked whether there was a general algorithm to determine whether a given equation in integer variables had a solution. Even for individual equations figuring this out can be very difficult. For example it was known even in ancient times that x^2+y^2=z^2 had infinitely many integer solutions, but it took Fermat to show that x^4+y^4=z^4 did not. It turned out that there is no general way of answering these sorts of questions. The problem was solved by lot of people, especially Julia Robinson, Martin Davis, , Hilary Putnam, and ultimately finished off by Yuri Matiyasevich. The solution was to show that one can actually model an arbitrary Turing machine as a system of Diophantine equations, where the machine halting is equivalent to the Diophantine equations having a solution. Thus, if one can solve that one can answer whether any given Turing machine can halt, which Turing showed could not be done in general, using a clever trick- this is known as the Halting theorem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halting_problem [wikipedia.org]. Curiously, the equivalent problem over the rationals is still open, and is turning out to be connected to deep issues in topology and the theory of elliptic curves. So Turing's ideas and thoughts are still pushing us forward and making us ask new questions.

  • Just sayin (Score:4, Funny)

    by bigredradio (631970) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:18PM (#40289029) Homepage Journal
    Has anyone noticed this [icanhascheezburger.com] before.... just sayin.
  • Alan Turing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's so sad on reflection when we look on how we (and I'm British) treated him, just because he was homosexual. I'm afraid that we've lost many greats over the ages because of their peccadillos. At least now for many (but not everywhere) this is not a issue. Now Alan is receiving the recognition he truly deserved, along with Charles Babbage and don't forget Ada Byron.

    • We did it because of American pressure; they refused to cooperate with us if we didn't go along with loony McCarthyism. Nobody persecuted Montgomery because his career was over after WW2 and he was of no strategic interest.
      • by nukenerd (172703)
        Montgomery was not a homosexual. After his wife's death there was nothing to suggest that he was anything but celibate, notoriously so. As one American aide said, "You just DO NOT get personal with this guy", and he was only meaning having a beer with him.

        I am not particularly sympathetic with gays, but they can get on with it as far as I am concerned (as Black Adder said, "leaving more totty for the rest of us"). They score far more than heteros ever do, I gather.

        I have always been kicked in th
      • We did it because of American pressure; they refused to cooperate with us if we didn't go along with loony McCarthyism

        Why do you call it "loony"?

    • by kenh (9056)

      The british had a long-standing tradition of mis-treating many, many talented citizens of the Realm that had the misfortune of being practicing homosexuals.

    • by nukenerd (172703)
      I thought he had been receiving such recognition for some time now, certainly since I first heard of him some years ago.
  • by mseeger (40923) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:27PM (#40289135)

    Please also remember, that he was driven into suicide by the nation he protected because he just was who he was. He had done nobody harm but was convicted because others decided what was morally acceptable between consenting adults.

    Remember the talent we lost to bigotry :-(.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:37PM (#40289225)

    I've met Vint Cerf, who unlike Turing is alive.

    • by tqk (413719)

      I've met Vint Cerf, who unlike Turing is alive.

      Whoopee for you. I've met RMS and he signed my Emacs book, and he's alive too.

      On the bright side, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy are dead. USA!

  • What about,,, (Score:5, Informative)

    by kenh (9056) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:05PM (#40289487) Homepage Journal

    Charles Babbage [wikipedia.org] & Ada Lovelace [wikipedia.org]?

    For you young whipper-snappers:

    "Charles Babbage, FRS (26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871)[1] was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer.[2] Considered a "father of the computer",[3] Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs.["

    "Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 - 27 November 1852), born Augusta Ada Byron, was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine; thanks to this, she is sometimes considered the world's first computer programmer."

    • There are plenty of parents of "computer science". Alan Turing was more like the grandfather of modern computing, along with Ada and Babbage, and the father would be Von Neumann.

      • by chthon (580889)

        I think that Alan Turing should be considered the father of computer science, because he showed a general model for implementing algorithms, the Turing Machine, and he showed the direction about analysing algorithms.

        But I think it should be fair to say that, like in the case of Newton, he also stood on the shoulders of the people before him: Kurt GÃdel, Alonzo Church, SchÃnfinkel/Curry, and probably some others.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:50PM (#40289929) Homepage Journal

    Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist

    Interesting that a title like "Google's chief Internet evangelist" sounded so cool in 2000 now sounds so completely dorky.

    The future is so 1999.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:31PM (#40290245) Homepage

    Von Neumann was much more influential than Turing. Not only did von Neumann do brilliant work in multiple areas of mathematics, he invented modern computer architecture. [stanford.edu] Babbage's design was more like a Jacquard loom card reader coupled to a calculator. Turing's theoretical machine had to roll a long tape back and forth, and the cryptographic machines were essentially hard-wired or plugboard-programmed. Those machines are closer in concept to Hollerith/IBM tabulators of the 1920s to 1950s.

    Von Neumann got computer architecture right. He saw that the right answer was RAM, with programs and data in the same memory: The device requires a considerable memory. While it appeared that various parts of this memory have to perform functions which differ somewhat in their nature and considerably in their purpose, it is nevertheless tempting to treat the entire memory as one organ, and to have its parts even as interchangeable as possible for the various functions enumerated above."

    He also figured out that 1) everything inside the machine should be binary, not decimal, 2) memory sizes should be a power of two, 3) about 2^18 bits of RAM were needed to get any useful work done, 4) delay-line memory would work in the short term, but "iconoscope" memory (see Williams tube [wikipedia.org]), which is random access, would be better, and 5) what a reasonable instruction set should look like.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday June 11, 2012 @08:34PM (#40290687) Journal

      Von Neumann was much more influential than Turing. Not only did von Neumann do brilliant work in multiple areas of mathematics, he invented modern computer architecture.

      I'm not trying to denigrate von Neumann's achievements but...

      Actually, pretty much all deeply embedded microcontrollers are Harvard architecture. Actually, most modern processers have separate paths from instruction cache and data cache making them much more like Harvard architecture than Von Neumann. That's why self modifying code is hideously slow on the modern CPUs that actually bother to flush things when a write aliasing the instruction cache is made. The other CPUs won't even see the modification.

      Also, Zuse attempted to patent the idea in 1941.

      He also figured out that 1) everything inside the machine should be binary,

      All of Zuse's machines were binary as was Colossus. However, the last serious non-binary computer (Setun) performed very well, notably better than competing binary designs at the time.

      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        Actually, most modern processers have separate paths from instruction cache and data cache making them much more like Harvard architecture than Von Neumann.

        Except for the ability to load arbitrary applications rather than running what's in the instruction memory, and being able to add new applications to the repertoire under program control, but that really isn't that important, I guess. To be fair, you could have a "modified Harvard architecture" in which you have instructions to write to the instruction memory and I/O data paths to allow data to be read into instruction memory.

        In any case, there are two issues that matter here - the "macroarchitecture" iss

        • Except for the ability to load arbitrary applications rather than running what's in the instruction memory, and being able to add new applications to the repertoire under program control, but that really isn't that important, I guess.

          Yes they certainly can do that, though that is a comparatively very slow process, which is somewhat separate from execution. They are very much a hybrid with shades of both. Fun fact, many modern not-too-cheap deeply embedded micros (like the Atmel ones used in the arduino) can

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      I haven't read the book, but read a review in the paper over the weekend.

      "Turing's Cathedral", which, despite the name, is about the group led by Von Neumann
      http://www.amazon.com/Turings-Cathedral-Origins-Digital-Universe/dp/0375422773 [amazon.com]

    • The Von Neumann architecture is more like a modern computer, but the Turing machine, because it is simpler, is better for mathematics. Because it is simpler is it easier to prove that it has the same capabilities as other systems (that is, for Church thesis equivalency).

      As far as I know Turing only intended his machine to be used for mathematical purposes, I don't think the ACE was modeled after the Turning machine.

      Influence is very difficult to measure, but Von Neumann was more influence by Turing than Tur

    • by glwtta (532858)
      Von Neumann was influential in the design modern computers, Turing was one of the major influences in the development of Computer Science.

      There isn't really much overlap between the two.
    • by mvdwege (243851)

      Turing's theoretical machine had to roll a long tape back and forth

      Modern computers still do that. What do you think the instruction pointer in a modern CPU is?

      Mart

    • He also figured out that 1) everything inside the machine should be binary, not decimal

      Sorry to nitpick, but is that decision all that revolutionary? You need a machine that needs to represent numbers. It's well known that numbers can be reasonably represented with any base above 1. With a machine you can easily represent the concept of two possible states, "on" or "off".

      Now let's see, whatever should we do????

    • by GbrDead (702506)

      1) everything inside the machine should be binary, not decimal

      That was actually John Atanasoff's idea.

  • Any UK people reading this should go to the government e-petitions site and sign the petition to have Turing put on the next update of the ten-pound banknote.

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31659 [direct.gov.uk]

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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