The Alan Turing Memorial...
His memorial was unveiled on the
anniversary of his birth, 23rd June, at noon in Sackville
Alan Turing was a brilliant original thinker - the mathematician and logician who studied and wrote on a whole spectrum of subjects, from philosophy and psychology through to physics, chemistry and biology. The word repeatedly used is 'genius'. In the 1930's he conceived of a 'universal machine' which might carry out processes similar to thought processes using numbers, and suggested that such a machine should be called an electronic computer.
During Hitler's war, working at the Bletchley Park, his 'Bombe' device allowed German wartime codes to be cracked and laid the foundations for the first electronic machines. He probably had a deeper understanding of the digital world and its future potential than anyone else. In Manchester he contributed to building and programming the first all-electronic computer, and began the study of artificial intelligence.
Granted an OBE and Fellowship of the Royal Society, in 1952 he was prosecuted for the crime of homosexuality, and, aged just 42, died at home near Manchester after taking a bite from an apple poisoned with cyanide. His work on logical systems remains unfinished and is still being studied.
The remarkable full story is on his own website, created by his biographer Andrew Hodges.
ALAN TURING MEMORIAL FUND...
With Sir Derek Jacobi (seen here as Turing contemplating the apple in Hugh Whitmore's play Breaking The Code) as its patron the Alan Turing Memorial Fund began in 1996 to raise the funds to construct a memorial to Turing. The task was difficult- It is fittingly ironic that not one single major computing company was willing to support this project, nor was a single penny contributed by national or local government. Under the tireless leadership of Richard Humphry, Micheal French and Micheal Rawlinson the fund had, by the end of 2000, collected some £15,000. Despite generous assistance from British Society for the History of Mathematics and a many modest donations from ordinary people, this was far short of the £50,000 required. The decision was therefore made to have the statue cast by the Tianjin Focus Company in China, at a fraction of the cost of using a British foundry. With some 5000 years of bronze casting experience, the result is the excellent statue you can now see in Manchester.
The sculptor, Glyn Hughes, says "In being given the opportunity to consider an appropriate memorial to Turing, it was tempting to look towards some modernistic or eccentric way to commemorate such a modern thinker. But realistic bronze is traditionally the way we mark out national heroes. Unfortunately those bronzes all too often consist of some high-and-mighty figure throwing a grand gesture on top of a granite slab. Such statues, and our cities are full of them, are easily ignored. I chose rather to present Turing as a very small and ordinary man, sat in the park which runs between the university science buildings and the famous gay bars of Canal Street.
The life-like, life-size silicon-bronze shows Turing, scruffily dressed as was his habit, holding an apple, not only a reminder of his unfortunate end, but redolent of Newton, the founder of science-as-numbers, as well as being the fruit of the tree of knowledge, a symbol used in classical statuary to represent forbidden love, and, quite incidentally, the badge of a pioneering computer company. On the Bronze bench is carved 'Alan Mathison Turing 1912-1954' and a mysterious jumble of words, which are, in fact a motto as encoded by the German 'Enigma'
The form of the statue, more like a piece of real life frozen into bronze than the commonplace attempt to be grand or clever, was intended to invite the visitor to touch, and to perhaps to sit next to Mr Turing; while there is sufficient, slightly puzzling, imagery to prompt them to investigate further. To my delight, this has proved to be the case- there are sometimes even queues! "
Apart from being one of England's biggest and most vibrant cities, Manchester holds a unique position in computer history - On the 21st June 1948 at Manchester the 2048-bit all-electronic 'Baby' computer ran its first program and began the digital revolution, the city is now home to the National Computing Centre. Lots more about 'why Manchester' at Andrew Hodges Turing Site
Turing is portrayed as the thinking machine on the 1999 Great Inventors postage stamp, designed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. There is an Alan Turing Way in Manchester, a 'Blue Plaque' (officially placed on sites associated with national heroes) at his birthplace in London, and several IT and computer science organisations named in his honour. But perhaps his greatest memorial is the fact that you are reading this now, through the medium he pioneered. As one IT technician put it: "Without Turing, I'd either be out of a job, or working for the Nazis"
You can find the full story of Turing on his own website, or through the BBC News, see the Manchester Baby at the Museum of Science and Industry, go and look at the wartime pre-computers at The Bletchley Park Code and Cypher School or contact the ALAN TURING MEMORIAL FUND. See how Turing's ideas are still being studied at the Turing Project, and how close we now are to building a thinking machine.
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
Alan Turing, on computers in 1953