back to article Alan Turing 100: Visionary, war winner ... game maker?

We all know Alan Turing was a Nazi cipher breaker, which is already cool enough, but a computer games and AI pioneer? That’s a story that's told less often. Alan Turing achieved many things before his suicide in June 1954, many of which have been written and spoken about during the run-up to the 100th anniversary of his birth …


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  1. Captain TickTock

    No Google Doodle today :(

    If anyone deserves a Google doodle it would be Turing

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Google Doodle today :(

      You'll have to wait until tomorrow for that.

    2. Andrew Moore

      Re: No Google Doodle today :(

      His birthday/centenary is tomorrow.

      1. Captain TickTock

        Re: No Google Doodle today :(

        Yes. Must have mislaid my reading glasses ;-) today's doodle is cool

  2. Rosco

    Church-Turing Thesis?

    Bizarre omission of the Church-Turing Thesis from this article. IMO a far more significant contribution to AI thought than the silly Turing Test

    1. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: Church-Turing Thesis?

      Turing was such a genius it's hard not to omit something important in a small article, for me it's his work in chaos theory, into the very nature of life itself. even today a century after his birth we have made little progress from his work. I suspect that if he had not died (too early) this is what he'd be rememberd for more.

      Track down a program called the secret life of chaos, or visit Bletchley Park (it's a nice day out) and go skiing in Milton Keynes while you're up that way.

      1. Jemma

        Re: Untimely death...?!

        Umm, by 'untimely death' dont you mean untimely state sponsored homophobic poisoning and subsequent suicide?

        'Chemical Castration' is not an exact science even now and patients have to be monitored carefully for signs of depression. To be fair its more commonly used these days to de-pedo pedos and sex offenders, so not much change from Turing's day then if you think about it. The difference between then and now is that nowadays all 'patients' have to worry about is whether they'll be starring in a remake of 'gorillas in the mist' not doctors who dont have the slightest clue, or for that matter, interest in what they are doing to the person concerned.

        You know, that makes me wonder if in say 70 years time pedo's will be considered fine and dandy. Its a point to think about certainly (and then violently vomit somewhere off camera). And no, I am not likening homosexuality to pedosexuality before you all squeal in indignation.

        All the information I have managed to find points to Turings' case being one of poor knowledge of the subject. Turing was given Oestrogen alone, in poorly controlled doses, of medication that probably wasnt all that pure. Oestrogen alone, without a progestin, and more importantly an androgen agonist is a nice unhealthy recipe for very unpleasant side effects - especially hormonally induced depression, really really impressive hormonally induced depression.

        It constantly amazes me the similarities between the activities of 'Der Weisse Engel' and other such luminaries and how we treat 'undesirables' and how in the discussion the point about Der Weisse Engel is always made 'it wasn't as if the 'experiments had any scientific value, since there was no real scientific method used'. Would it have been ok to inject preteen twins (in the most part) with carbolic acid to see what happened - if there had been some 'scientific method' involved? Would it have been ok if they'd been convicted Homosexuals (1940s) or pedosexuals (now)?

        As to what Turing achieved we owe him many debts of gratitude - but then again without him so much would not have been possible - the cold war, the various credit crashes, 9/11 (last I saw they fitted 757/767 with computerised controls & glass cockpits) and so many other pleasantries of the modern world - he even had a grandfatherly and remote hand on the rise of the fanboi!

        Alan Turing - we salute you.

        Oh yeah - and bought any BASF products recently - they used to be called IG Farben (you know the ones, made Foxconn look like paradise.)

        Got a car with an ECU? you can thank the kommandogerat system in the Fw190 series of Nazi fighters for that (although thankfully modern cars handle traffic-jams/formation flying better).

        If the good-ole-allies hadnt won WWII you wouldnt have some pratt in a BMW cutting you up at 90mph. To the victors go the spoils - I personally could have done without that one.

        Last but certainly not least. If it wasnt for Adolf Hitler, there wouldnt be the Golf GTI/VR6/whatever they're calling it this month... not to mention teflon, heart transplants and a few other incidental little items.

        Kinda reminds me of that really annoying advert for I think it is - the 50-something woman (who looks alot like esme weatherwax/lady margolotta) travelling through history and making gormless comments to various baffled ancestors. I wonder how many people in the UK alone would be able to legitimately star in one with 'Uncle Adolf' after being conceived in the back of a VW Golf/Bus/etc...

        Adolf: hmm, Ferdinand, I am going to make a cheap car for the masses, and tangentially invent the term vapourvare... go have a look at that chap Ledwinka's designs.."

        Modern day butch lesbian pops up out of nowhere...

        "I do hope so, or me and my girlfriend wouldnt be here..."

        Adolf goes into clinical shock and accidentally orders the invasion of Poland, and we know how that turned out...

        Shame it didnt go that way actually - it could have given the people behind the advert a point.

        And yes - I am bitter, twisted, and cynical - go me!

        1. daveeff

          Re: Untimely death...?!

          Check out

          He had finished the hormone treatment a year before his death, was regarded as in good spirits, he was conducting experiments using cyanide, there is no evidence "the poisoned apple" was poisoned.

          The main evidence for suicide seems to be "it's the sort of thing his type do."

          Not diminishing the appalling nature of his treatment but the suicide judgement seems deeply questionable.

          On the other hand Turing was clever enough (and then some!) to disguise his actions if he had wanted to.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    OK, I confess...

    I'm just an AI posting on the El Reg forums...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OK, I confess...

      AI? oh you mean average intelligence

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: OK, I confess...

        He he...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OK, I confess...

      No I think it means Absent intelligence.

      1. Keith Williams

        Re: OK, I confess...

        That would be at least 1/2 the posters

  4. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Was with you until...

    ..."Computing didn’t get "personal" until the Mac, designed in the mid-1970s."

    You what? There are at least TWO mistakes in that sentence - unless you're conflating "Mac" with the Xerox Star or something.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Was with you until...

      Huh? Xerox Start 'personal'? Certainly not. It wasn't a stand alone computer, and certainly not one for home use.

      Sure, take issue and say computing got 'personal' with Apple II, C=64, or another home computer. But I think in the context of the statement 'personal' means even more than just personal computer, but also one with a friendly UI, and the Macintosh IMO was the first.

      1. Giles Jones Gold badge

        Re: Was with you until...

        Wrong Apple Lisa was first. Go back and read up :)

        The Amiga and ST were not far behind (1985). The Lisa was hugely expensive, even those in Apple thought it was insane, hence the Mac.

    2. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Was with you until...

      Xerox never released a consumer orientated product around its technology.

      But I think the article is not correct. GUI based computers didn't get personal until the Apple Lisa. The Mac came after that.

      The rest of us were all perfectly happy with our Commodore and Sinclar machines. Commodore's contribution to the early personal computer market is always revised by Apple revisionists. Apple even claimed to be the first to sell 1 million when it was Commodore who did first.

      Without Chuck Peddle approaching MOS to produce the 6502 and MOS being bought by Commodore a lot of the early computers just would never had happened. Commodore machines, BBC Micro, Atari VCS and countless other 6502 machines wouldn't have happened as the alternative processors were vastly more expensive (MOS got yields of 70% working chips compared to 30% industry average).

    3. annodomini2

      Re: Was with you until...

      The first PC was the Xerox Alto, which also used a GUI in 1973.

      It was never sold as retail product though.

      3 years before Apple even existed.

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    IBM's Watson is a good step...

    Speaking of which, does anyone know where to get the Watson issue of IBM's Journal of Research and Development without having to give ~ 17 x 30 = 510 USD for PDFs to the IEEE?

  6. Sir Runcible Spoon


    "Turing placed too much faith in the power of storage over other elements – including processing, CPU speed, memory, interface and many other factors which are today still emerging from the computing crucible."

    Perhaps he was thinking smarter, not harder.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Sir

      I reckon that it could have been done.

      The problem is that by the nineties, nobody would have really given a stuff that a computer on one end of a terminal couldn't be reliably distinguished from a person on one end of a terminal. Nobody outside of academia would have seen the point without it also handling a natural speech interface.

      No chance of a press-friendly article on success = no funding to do it.

  7. meh1010

    "pre-electrical computing at its best"

    Electricity? Electricity? When I were a lad we had to use our own blood t' drive t' computer. And we were grateful! And you know what? We were grateful!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paper chess

    Turing and David Champernowne invented the Turochamp algorithm in 1948. Without a computer to hand, they played games where one player impersonated the machine, following the algorithm rather than using their own game playing skill.

    Turochamp definitely lost to Glennie in 1952, but there were earlier games which have not been recorded in detail, including one where it defeated Champernowne's wife.

  9. Kubla Cant

    "until the 1950s, computers were non-electrical calculating machines"

    Wrong on two counts.

    From at least the 18th century until the 1940s, computers were people who did calculations for a living. I believe the first electronic computers were so called because they were designed to calculate ballistics tables, a job that was previously done by human computers.

    "Calculating machines" were called, er, "calculators". Before the 1950s they would mostly have been manually-powered, but I'm pretty sure electro-mechanical ones existed.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "until the 1950s, computers were non-electrical calculating machines"

      ""Calculating machines" were called, er, "calculators". Before the 1950s they would mostly have been manually-powered, but I'm pretty sure electro-mechanical ones existed."

      Or even a comptometer :-)

      Damn! Whats that word we use when a brand name comes to mean the whole class of product, eg Hoover, Sellotape etc?

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: "until the 1950s, computers were non-electrical calculating machines"

        The people involved were in fact usually called a cipher or occasionally an actuary. The used calculating engines (abacus then slide rule). Ciphers did the reckoning. True!

        And don't forget the NCR contribution to electro-mechanical math with their "incorruptible cashier" or what we know as the cash register today. Even the early models could do surprisingly complex mate AND could print receipts!

  10. Steven Jones


    "Turing helped build the Bombe, pre-electrical computing at its best"

    The Bombe was most certainly electrical - in fact electro-mechanical. Indeed each had several miles of wiring. However, what it wasn't was electronic, if that term is taken to mean using purely electronic signal controls with no mechanical components (although later, US Navy, Bombes did include a very limited use of thermionic valves to detect "stops").

    However, there was really nothing in the early Bombes which the Victorians couldn't have understood. What was new was the maths and logic, for which Turing played a very large part.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      ...The Bombe, and where it got the extra "e"

      The machine Turing helped to design owed much of its operational structure to the much earlier Polish "bomba kryptologiczna" ("Cryptographic bomb"), which had had considerable success in cracking the four-rotor Enigma.

      Turing's breakthrough was the application of these machines (which were brute-force permutators) to the crib-based (known plaintext) cracking schemes used at Bletchley.

      1. Paul_Murphy

        Re: ...The Bombe, and where it got the extra "e"

        4-rotor? the early enigmas were 3-rotor, so I would have thought that the Polish cryptographers would have been working on those,

        All in all a fascinating story, with the UK/French divide being as strong then as it was in the middle ages.

      2. Steven Jones

        Re: ...The Bombe, and where it got the extra "e"

        As somebody else pointed out, the Polish bombes (and much kudos to them) could only solve the three rotor Enigma, and only then under the particular protocols adopted by the Nazis under peacetime (read Andrew Hodge's biography of Turing to understand why). Once the Nazis moved to a war-footing, added more plug-board settings and changed some other procedures the Polish bombes were unable to break the system and the changes required were beyond their resources.

        Turing did not just work on the design of the Bletchley Bombes (which were made considerably more effective with Gordon Welchman's invention of the "diagonal board"), but he, crucially, made many advances in the use of probability theory to vastly narrow the range of search.

        The Poles played an incredibly important part, not least of which was to show that the systems could be broken (and it's the system of usage, not just the machines). As it was, breaking Enigma required "cribs" - like bits of expected text at known points. Used properly, Enigma was essentially unbreakable using contemporary technology. If the Nazis had not been so blinded and arrogant about the impenetrable nature of the Enigma, then they would have investigated the weaknesses in their own procedures. It was interesting that they made no serious attempt to break the Britain's equivalent Typex machine (although the broke merchant navy book codes due to sloppy practice). There were also some parts of the Nazi military that did use Enigma properly, and their codes were never broken.

  11. DelM

    Just a Little Vocational School

    "the Ivy Leaguers at MIT" is another error. While there certainly have been folk from the Ivy League who have seen the light and obtained higher level degrees or faculty positions at MIT, The Institvte[sic] itself is not officially part of that group of seven. Instead, we are just that little vocational school down the river from the prep school to the north.

  12. John Savard

    Confusing English Language

    I always thought that Alan Turing was a British cipher breaker. Of course, it was Nazi ciphers that he broke.

    So, of course, the problem is that here the modifier applies to the first noun in the phrase, acting as a modifier of the second noun, instead of to the whole phrase, which is the more common construction.

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  14. driwatson

    The Universal Machine

    It's difficult for us to realise how special Turing's concept of a "universal machine' was because we are so used to the idea. You want your computer to play chess, load the chess program, you want it to check your finances, load the accounts program etc....One machine that could simulate any Turing machine. A huge breakthrough. Incedentally The Universal Machine is a good book about Turing's legacy.

  15. Liam Proven Silver badge


    There's a rather important missing character, or bit of HTML formatting, in there. Where it says:

    a storage capacity of about 109

    it should say either

    a storage capacity of about 10^9

    or perhaps

    a storage capacity of about 10<sup>9</sup>.

  16. Unicornpiss

    Is the GUI the gold standard of computers being "personal"?

    What about machines like the Altair, Commodore PET, Apple I and II, TRS-80, and many others, not counting the huge number of home brew machines? Maybe no GUI, but extremely usable and friendly. (most of them anyway) The Mac was much, much later in the game.

  17. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Virtual Machine Turing Tests are not designed to identify humans.

    They discover brainwashed idiot robots masquerading as humans in a charade/virtual reality

    "Alan Turing 100: Visionary, war winner ... game maker? …… When he appears to reappear in a machine his legacy will be complete" … Gavin Clarke

    Hi, Gavin,

    Great Game on …. and is that particular and peculiar power game over, to be replaced by another one, but quite fundamentally different, whenever he appears to reappear in a machine IT encounters creating real things, via virtual means in CyberIntelAIgent Memes? ....……… Quantum Entingling

    And yes/no, it is far too advanced and sophisticated to be just a simply complex CIA IM tool for follies in hubris with failing potentates in repressive and oppressive regimes.

    Can you imagine how impossibly securely physically protected such an operating system is from any sort of assault/attack phorm? And I doubt you would believe just how much it has already irreversibly done and is always doing with IT in collapsing corrupting systems and replacing defective drivers with smarter proxy units with entities, remotely controlled from Spaces InterNetworking Sublimely.

    There are those who are deep thinkers and tinkerers, who would have you believe that to ask a question has one implying the answer is found and the facts proven to be so and a reality invented and produced from vivid and virile imagination. And they would be able to enable its proof and show how the future is made and presented to replace the past. Is that a common feat, which can be easily done by many? Or a gift which can be performed by just a few?

    It does have one asking in either case, why do you not hear about it and see it being presented and represented in mainstream media channels and outlets. Ah well, I suppose that has all changed now that El Reg is hosting content too, for it has has some real cool and smart cookies on its boards.

    1. Don Jefe
      Thumb Up

      Re: Virtual Machine Turing Tests are not designed to identify humans.

      See. Turing research created amanfrommars1. You should check out his website. Other than the fact it reads like a stoned/drunk sociology major he's doing a pretty good job with his AI these days.

  18. Barry Mahon

    Ironical that the ideas Turing launched have led to the sort of crap banks get up to; millions of transactions per second to what effect??

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