Turing's Last, Lost Work

August 09, 2003 2:48 PM | Turing

Alan Turing has a wide and still growing reputation as one of the most creative thinkers of the 20th century. His interests, from computing and the mind to information and biology span many of the emerging themes of the 21st century.

Turing (born 1912) was an undergraduate and then Fellow at King's College Cambridge. In his twenties he published a seminal paper outlining what we now call the Turing Machine, establishing many of the key ideas in computing theory and mathematical logic. During the 1939-1945 war he served as a code breaker at Bletchley Park and played a central role in the breaking of the German Enigma code. After the war he largely returned to academia. In 1950 he published a celebrated Mind paper describing the Turing Test for machine intelligence, and in a 1951 paper he proposed the Turing Instability, now a central concept of mathematical biology. Despite this astounding set of eponyms he remained a relatively neglected figure in his lifetime and for several decades after his suicide in 1954.

However a superb biography by Andrew Hodges (and perhaps the need of the newly mature discipline of computer science to find and venerate its own icons) have contributed to a reevaluation. Alan Turing is now well known as a pioneer in the logical and technical development of the computer and of cognitive science, and also widely recognised in mathematical biology.

Less well known is that he spent the last few years of his life further developing his morphogenetic theory and using the new computer to generate solutions to reaction-diffusion systems. Some of this work was published in his lifetime; some, thanks to the editors of his Collected Works, was eventually published posthumously, and some has been preserved unpublished, mainly in the archives of King's College Cambridge. The paper published in his lifetime has turned out to be seminal and very widely cited in the mathematical theory of biological pattern formation, but the rest of his researches have remained obscure and ill-understood. It is the purpose of this website to interpret this last work of Turing's.

Posted by Jonathan at August 9, 2003 02:48 PM | TrackBack
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