Laying foundations for the computer age . . .

A Central Hero of World War II

Jack Copeland: Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age, 2012,
Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-871918-2, 300 pages.

Computer scientists and serious computing practioners are aware of the British mathematician Alan Turing, who:

Most of us are also aware of the post-war persecution of Turing for having committed homosexual acts in private, a serious offense in 1940s Britain.

Turing's major contribution to the War effort was as a leader in the effort to break the sophisticated codes built into the German "Enigma" machine. That helped Allied shipping to avoid German submarines, alerted the RAF to German bombing attacks, and very likely shortened the War by a year or two.1

Roughly the first half of Copeland's book recounts the war years in gripping detail, much of which has only recently been declassified. The second half of the book is about Turing's postwar activities. The author gives credit to Turing for some computer innovations (e.g. the stored program) that are commonly attributed to others. It's interesting to speculate on how Turing might further have influenced information technology if he had lived past age 41.2


1—With German scientists working on an atomic bomb, that year or two may well have been critical to the eventual outcome.
2—Although Turing's death was officially ruled suicide, Copeland makes the case that either accident or murder is equally likely.

Highly recommended

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Last modified March 9, 2017