Alan Turing 1912-1954

Today, 23rd June 2012, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the British mathematician now widely regarded as the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. He stumbled upon this breakthrough by virtue of his key role as part of a team of cryptanalysts working at Bletchley Park during World War Two, trying to crack the codes used by the German “Enigma” machines. To do this, an even cleverer, and vaster, machine called “Colossus” had to be built to calculate the huge numbers of code permutations. Ergo… the birth of the computer. Out of something evil came something very good, and useful indeed. All this remained top secret of course, for many years after the war (even armed with the codes, Churchill had allowed many people to die, in order not to reveal the existence of Colossus). Turing never lived to see how the world admires him now. In an era of prejudice and cold-war paranoia, the authorities responded to his homosexuality by insisting he submit to chemical castration. He died by cyanide poisoning, widely believed to be self-administered, in 1954.

I mention all this, not just to honour the memory of a great man, but also because my publisher Elsewhen Press asked me to write a piece on Alan Turing, which has just gone up over at their website, and the explanation I have posted above may help people to understand some of the references within it. Turing died with a half-eaten apple by his bedside. And as Morten Harket and Pal Waaktaar once summed it up in a James Bond theme tune “The living’s in the way we die” (can’t wisdom be found in the strangest places in our kaleidoscope culture?). My story, called Colossus, begins with a piece of poetry written by Turing himself, and is a rather dense piece of stream-of-consciousness, but makes an interesting contrast to the pieces by the other writers on the site. They are each only 1000 words, and a good read. Give them a go:

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