In this sense, the variety of topics and
the diversity of approaches of Turing’s
work, embracing both the practical and
the theoretical, reflects an essential aspect of computer science. However, if
one celebrates Turing mainly because
of his theoretical work, one runs the
risk of increasing already existing divides. Instead of favoring one reading
of Turing and crowding out others,
why not view Turing’s own accomplishments as an invitation? The historian
could integrate Turing into a more
complex historical account. The computer scientist could look back and reflect on the state of computer science,
finding new ways of rapprochement between the many branches of computer
science, between theory and practice.
1. ACM Council Meeting, August 27, 1965. Available from
the “Saul Gorn Papers,” the University of Pennsylvania
Archives (unprocessed collection).
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from the “Saul Gorn Papers,” the University of
Pennsylvania Archives (unprocessed collection).
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and its development on the MIDAC. In Symposium
on Automatic Programming for Digital Computers,
Washington D.C., May 1954. Office of Naval Research,
Department of the Navy, 84–97.
4. Bullynck, M. Reading Gauss in the computer age: On
the U. S. reception of Gauss’s number theoretical work.
Archive for the History of the Exact Sciences 65, 5
5. Cooper, B.S. and van Leeuwen, J., Eds. Alan Turing—
His Work and Impact. Elsevier, 2013.
6. Daylight, E.G. Towards a Historical Notion of ‘Turing—
The Father of Computer Science’. To appear in History
and Philosophy of Logic; http://www.dijkstrascry.com/
7. Daylight, E.G. A Turing Tale. Commun. ACM 57, 10
8. Gorn, S. Real solutions of numerical equations by
high speed machines. Technical Report 966, Ballistic
Research Laboratories, October 1955. Available
from the “Saul Gorn Papers” from the University of
Pennsylvania Archives (unprocessed collection).
9. Haigh. T. Actually, Turing did not invent the computer.
Commun. ACM 57, 1 (Jan. 2014), 46–51.
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12. Underwood, S. The Alan Turing year leaves a rich
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Maarten Bullynck ( email@example.com) is
associate professor at Département de mathématiques et
histoire des sciences, Université Paris 8. He is currently on
sabbatical leave at the research Sphère (UMR 7219, Paris)
funded by the CNRS.
Edgar G. Daylight ( firstname.lastname@example.org)—also
known as Karel Van Oudheusden—has a Ph.D. from
KULeuven in Belgium and is a researcher in software
engineering and the history of computing at Utrecht
University in the Netherlands.
Liesbeth De Mol ( email@example.com) is a CNRS
researcher at the Université de Lille 3, France. She is the
president of the international DHST commission for the
History and Philosophy of Computing ( www.hapoc.org).
Copyright held by authors.
This started in the 1970s with the disclosure of some of Turing’s war work
for the Allies, followed by Andrew
Hodges’ authoritative 1983 biography,
which also added a personal dimension to Turing’s story: his life as a gay
man in a homophobic world. This
made Turing also known outside of
computer science. The second wave
culminated in the 2012 Turing centenary celebrations that nurtured the
perception of Turing as the inventor of
the modern computer and artificial intelligence. Some even claim Turing anticipated the Internet and the iPhone.
The year 2012 was full of activities:
there were over 100 academic meetings, plaques, documentaries, exhibitions, performances, theater shows,
and musical events. The celebrations
also brought together a group of people with diverse backgrounds and promoted computer science to the general public, an achievement of which
the longer-term impact has yet to be
awaited. 12 A discipline has its heroes
for good reasons.
As Hodges’ biography shows, Turing’s work was multifaceted. Not only
did Turing contribute in 1936 to the
foundations of mathematics, which later proved to be fundamental for theoretical computer science, he also worked
at Bletchley Park during World War II to
help break the Enigma. He became an
experienced programmer of the Ferran-ti Mark I for which he wrote a programmer’s manual and even designed a computer, known as the ACE. He reflected
on thinking machines and contributed
to the field of morphogenesis.
It is therefore not surprising that for
many today the multidisciplinary nature
of computer science is personified in
Turing who achieved all these different
things in one short lifespan. Along these
lines, Barry Cooper, the driving force behind the Turing centenary, said the following in 2012: The mission of [the Turing Centenary] was to address concerns
about how science was fragmenting. We
wanted to return to more joined-up thinking about computability and how it affects
everyone’s life. More generally, too, the
Turing Year was important in highlighting
the need for fundamental thinking. 12
From this perspective, Turing’s the-
oretical work gives new impetus to the
sciences as a whole, not just to com-
puter science per se. The recent volume
Turing’s collected papers cum essays
from renowned scientists—also wants
to bring this point home. It echoes
even on the political level. The House of
Commons has considered naming the
new Technology and Innovation elite
centers after Turing. According to the
chairman of the Science and Technolo-
gy Committee, “There isn’t a discipline
in science that Turing has not had an
impact upon.” As such, computer sci-
ence, and especially theoretical com-
puter science with its focus on com-
putability, becomes the connecting
discipline among the other sciences,
and thereby turns into a fundamental
science, not unlike mathematics.
The focus on computability and
fundamental thinking is certainly not
accidental. To a large extent the drive
behind the Turing Year came from theoreticians. They do not ignore that Turing
also worked in engineering. However,
many of them argue that Turing must
have invented the computer because of
his theoretical 1936 paper. According
to this view on science and technology,
also present in Klein’s Gauss interpretation, theory precedes practice.
Looking Backward into the Future
Over the past century, the one-dimen-sional image of Gauss has been replaced by a multitude of images. This
shows a discipline in constant evolution assesses its own identity through
its heroes and allows for a multiplicity
of readings. Certainly, each reading
may further the agenda of a particular
community, but the diversity of all images taken together, all grounded in
some way in Gauss’ legacy, positively
stimulates the openness and generosity of a field.
Is Turing for computer science what
Gauss is for mathematics? Computer
science, as its histories show, has many
origins, and this should be fostered.
Is Turing for
what Gauss is