“I’m presenting Alan Turing, the man who taught computers to think.” - Kate Russell

Cambridge, 1936. While the world was being shaped by events in Europe - the Spanish Civil War, the Nazis retaking the Rhineland - Alan Turing, a young mathematician, completes a new theory in his rooms in Cambridge.

This theory was originally described as an imaginary machine, to crunch imaginary numbers, but it went on to be the origin of Artificial Intelligence as we now know it. Turing was the first to understand that computers could learn and adapt to new stimuli, just as we humans can, it was just a matter of giving them the right tools in the first place.

Much like teaching a child to cross the road, Turing set about creating Artificial Intelligence in his machines. Today, self-parking cars, self-flying planes, even the Mars rover are all descendants of Turing's Machine.

Read the Alan Turing film script here (PDF link).

Voting is now closed.

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11 comment(s) for “Alan Turing”

  1. I'm really glad Turing won, thought Kate did a great job presenting him, well done all.

    2 Jul,   11:19   -  Mike 
  2. Thanks for joining in the discussion & voting!! I agree with the people who say Alan Turing did more than invent AI, but I think we also need to remember one of the core objectives here - to inspire and attract more people to take an interest in IT. I think the headline "inventor of AI" is more universally appealing than "Inventor of the theory of computability" :)

    30 May,   11:33   -  Kate Russell Show replies to this comment
    1. American computer scientist John McCarthy termed the science 'artificial intelligence'. Amongst other things, Turing's a pioneer of measuring machine intelligence through text-based question-answer sessions. Thus, to attract youngsters into Turing engineering projects the mathematician and code-breaker could be termed 'the father of chatting robots' such as these:

      Cleverbot: http://www.cleverbot.com/

      Elbot: http://www.elbot.com/

      Eugene Goostman: http://www.princetonai.com/bot/bot.jsp

      12 Jun,  - 14:27   -  Huma Shah

  3. Turing was quite simply an awesome man whose work contributed inestimably to the outcome of WWII and the development of computers. A visit to Bletchley Park http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/ is a must for anyone in or visiting the UK.

    30 May,   02:10   -  David Allan Show replies to this comment
    1. Couldn't agree with you more! What an amazing piece of history...

      30 May,  - 11:35   -  Kate Russell

    2. I was mesmerized by Alan Hodges' biography of Turing - I recommend it to anyone who believes Hollywood that the US broke the Enigma Code :)

      30 May,  - 09:04   -  Michael Mason

  4. I agree with previous contributors comments the synopsis of Turing’s impact on the world regarding information society is vastly selling him short. If you study some of Turing’s work and then look at every electronic device which is based on some sort of CPU with some sort of algorithmic execution code you begin to gauge the fundamental impact of his work.

    24 May,   13:45   -  KjR Show replies to this comment
    1. Tx. The intention is not to sell him short, of course. Telling his story in less than 5 mins is tough. We do know from feedback we're getting elsewhere that people are finding out about him for the first time and that has to be a good thing. To this last point, we believe there is Rciahdr Dawkins programme on Channel 4 on Turing on June 2 so anyone wanting to learn more about him should look out for that. we'll post details when we get them today. Hugh / infopioneers

      28 May,  - 16:30   -  Hugh

      1. The details for the Richard Dawkins programme on Turing are here http://www.channel4.com/tv-listings/daily/2010/06/02#C4_21:00

        28 May,  - 16:34   -  HUGH

  5. Hedy Lamarr seems to be getting the votes but it can't for co-inventing "frequency hopping" which while useful is not an achievement on the scale of Turing or Berners-Lee. She must be getting the vote because of her glamorous associations.

    23 May,   00:30   -  Ian Watson Show replies to this comment
    1. True. I wonder what could have happened with computer science if Turing had not put his intellectual achievements into play. It could have taken decades for other genious mind coming out with such an accurate mathematical model of the equivalent of a Turing Machine. In regard to Hedy Lamarr, sorry, but there were many ordinary engineers that could have easily co-invented hoping frequencies technology. Furthermore, the impact of computer science is so deep which is still hard to measure. We all rely on computer systems nowadays.

      23 May,  - 16:50   -  Carlos Azevedo

  6. I agree with John G-C; "creator of artificial intelligence" is neither accurate nor adequate. Please don't let that stop you all voting for him though!

    20 May,   13:42   -  Craig Heath Show replies to this comment
    1. The short films will shine a small spotlight on some of his achievements. What a fascinating man, but so much story to tell in 5 minutes of film! To be honest, we wanted to make hour long films about all of them by the end...

      20 May,  - 17:10   -  Sean C

    2. Let's hold judgement till we see the videos. I for one can't wait!

      20 May,  - 16:24   -  Arthur Fitzroy-Pappage

  7. Sorry but Tommy Flowers should be on the list, not Turing. Why is Flowers always forgotten about? Perhaps if HE'D been gay the BBC would remember him?

    19 May,   17:06   -  Martin Show replies to this comment
    1. There's a lot of talk/complaint about Tommy Flowers going on round here but in the top 150 poll he's only got 14 votes and Turing has 49...

      4 Jun,  - 14:34   -  Bob

    2. what an insensitive comment. as a mancunian i feel a great burden as to what was done to alan turing in the name of 'propriety' by the great and the good of this city. this has and is being redressed by the city but what was lost by his death can never be repaid.

      20 May,  - 20:08   -  vicki whelan

    3. Tommy Flowers is on the list. Go and look at the full list of 150 names. He's there.

      19 May,  - 21:18   -  John Graham-Cumming

    4. Tommy Flowers was a great innovator, but Turing quite simply defined what we call a computer today. Turing is the Newton of computing - he defined a set of basic principles that govern everything we do. Flowers was a great Electrical Engineer, but Turing was a great scientist.

      19 May,  - 18:15   -  Jack

  8. Whilst Turing did propose a way of determining whether a machine could think, concentrating on this as his contribution is misguided. Turing's more important contribution is the very theory of computability and it's for that that he invented the Turing Machine not for the purpose of making a machine think.

    It's rather silly that the BCS should promote Turing as an AI pioneer when he is in fact a computer pioneer. He is of far greater importance than just the Turing test.

    19 May,   16:24   -  John Graham-Cumming 
  9. What a great man. I think you're right John, too little, too late. A savagely treated genius who gave us so much.

    19 May,   13:14   -  Sean 
  10. It was nice that Turing got an official apology form the UK government last year, but I still think it was too little too late.

    19 May,   00:28   -  John Maher 
  11. Turing's story is amazing. Anybody been to Bletchly Park? There's a really cool statue of him there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbell/3373103501/

    16 May,   21:09   -  Richard Padmore 

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