Oxford: Oxford University Press (2017)
This volume celebrates the various facets of Alan Turing (1912–1954), the British
mathematician and computing pioneer, widely considered as the father of computer
science. It is aimed at the general reader, with additional notes and references for those
who wish to explore the life and work of Turing more deeply.
The book is divided into eight parts, covering different aspects of Turing’s life and
Part I presents various biographical aspects of Turing, some from a personal point of
Part II presents Turing’s universal machine (now known as a Turing machine), which
provides a theoretical framework for reasoning about computation. His 1936 paper on this
subject is widely seen as providing the starting point for the field of theoretical computer
Part III presents Turing’s working on codebreaking during World War II. While the War
was a disastrous interlude for many, for Turing it provided a nationally important outlet
for his creative genius. It is not an overstatement to say that without Turing, the War
would probably have lasted longer, and may even have been lost by the Allies. The
sensitive nature of Turning’s wartime work meant that much of this has been revealed
only relatively recently.
Part IV presents Turing’s post-War work on computing, both at the National Physical
Laboratory and at the University of Manchester. He made contributions to both hardware
design, through the ACE computer at the NPL, and software, especially at Manchester.
Part V covers Turing’s contribution to machine intelligence (now known as Artificial
Intelligence or AI). Although Turing did not coin the term, he can be considered a
founder of this field which is still active today, authoring a seminal paper in 1950.
Part VI covers morphogenesis, Turing’s last major scientific contribution, on the
generation of seemingly random patterns in biology and on the mathematics behind such
patterns. Interest in this area has increased rapidly in recent times in the field of
bioinformatics, with Turing’s 1952 paper on this subject being frequently cited.
Part VII presents some of Turing’s mathematical influences and achievements. Turing
was remarkably free of external influences, with few co-authors – Max Newman was an
exception and acted as a mathematical mentor in both Cambridge and Manchester.
Part VIII considers Turing in a wider context, including his influence and legacy to
science and in the public consciousness.
Reflecting Turing’s wide influence, the book includes contributions by authors from
a wide variety of backgrounds. Contemporaries provide reminiscences, while there are
perspectives by philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, historians of science,
and museum curators. Some of the contributors gave presentations at Turing Centenary
meetings in 2012 in Bletchley Park, King’s College Cambridge, and Oxford University,
and several of the chapters in this volume are based on those presentations – some
through transcription of the original talks, especially for Turing’s contemporaries, now
aged in their 90s. Sadly, some contributors died before the publication of this book, hence
its dedication to them.
For those interested in personal recollections, Chapters 2, 3, 11, 12, 16, 17, and 36
will be of interest. For philosophical aspects of Turing’s work, see Chapters 6, 7, 26–31,
and 41. Mathematical perspectives can be found in Chapters 35 and 37–39. Historical
perspectives can be found in Chapters 4, 8, 9, 10, 13–15, 18, 19, 21–25, 34, and 40. With
respect to Turing’s body of work, the treatment in Parts II–VI is broadly chronological.
We have attempted to be comprehensive with respect to all the important aspects of
Turing’s achievements, and the book can be read cover to cover, or the chapters can be
tackled individually if desired. There are cross-references between chapters where
appropriate, and some chapters will inevitably overlap.
We hope that you enjoy this volume as part of your library and that you will dip into
it whenever you wish to enter the multifaceted world of Alan Turing.