The Turing Guide

Oxford: Oxford University Press (2017)
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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 work. Part I presents various biographical aspects of Turing, some from a personal point of view. 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 science. 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.

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Author Profiles

Jack Copeland
University of Canterbury
Mark Sprevak
University of Edinburgh
Jonathan Bowen
Southwest University

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