The Talented Mister Turing

June 23rd marks the centenary of Alan Turing’s Birth. In the 100 years since his birth, science and technology have advanced dramatically. Turing only lived into his 40s, but even so his contributions to science and technology were profound, provocative, and lifesaving.

Turing’s work in computability put him on the radar at Bletchley Park, where several of Britains brightest worked to crack the code of the German Enigma Machine. The team could be thought of as an early band of hackers, trying to extract information from German military command.


One of the Enigma Machines Turing's team worked to beat was stolen. Fortunately, it was returned a few months later. (ENIGMA CODING MACHINE THEFT. ITV Lunchtime News. 04-03-2000)

Turing’s work centered around the development of the bombe, an early electromechanical device that eventually led to modern computers. The bombe could repeatedly test potential Enigma codes and pass along promising candidates to cryptanalysts at Bletchley. In succeeding, the team’s efforts are credited with bringing about Allied victory years before it might otherwise have.

Bombe Replica

The bombe, and other British inventions were showcased in this exhibition (BRITISH GENIUS EXHIBITION. News At Ten ( ITV Late Evening News). 26-05-1977)

Computability was conceptualized through the processes that a Turing machine would go through to complete tasks. Turing believed that most tasks could be broken down into something machine readable, an algorithm. This is a set of instructions for calculating a result or solving a problem. When done repeteadly and precisely, potential applications are limitless.

3D representation of the surface of the human brain

An algorithm generated this three dimensional brain scan (Surface detail of a human brain. Wellcome Images)

As algorithms and the machines that analyzed them became more powerful they eventually developed into what we now think of as supercomputers, laptops, smartphones, and so on. As the creator of the Turing machine concept and one of the early thinkers in computability, Turing is considered the grandfather of computer science and the computer itself.

Woman standing amongst a supercomputer array

Now supercomputers can be used to run stock markets, model the climate, and calculate trajectories for objects launched from Earth to destinations hundreds of thousands of miles away (Fastest Supercomputer in the World. Getty (still images). 28-06-2000)

The impact of Turing’s work in computing enabled the rise of the internet and societal development toward an information or knowledge economy.

Man talking about an internet exhibition

An early look at the internet (INTERNET EXHIBITION. ITV Lunchtime News. 25-04-1995)

Modern computer and internet integration aren’t all positive of course. The world is now more susceptible to viruses than ever. A virus from the turn of the millennium, Love Bug, made headlines simply because it was widespread. A little over a decade later, viruses often aren’t newsworthy unless they cause significant problems at noteworthy sites.

Man giving a conference on the Love Bug Virus

The Love Bug virus caused quite a stir (COMPUTERS: LOVE BUG VIRUS. Channel 4 Early Evening News. 05-05-2000)

The Turing Test raises an array of questions about knowledge, what it means to be human, and how artificial intelligence will develop. The test attempts to determine whether a person might be able to tell if they are interacting with a human or a machine during computer-mediated socialization. Those of you who’ve seen Blade Runner may recall the Voight-Kampff test, a modified Turing Test that revealed whether or not a humanoid was human or a Replicant machine.

Sony president at a podium

Sony already has robots commercially available in Japan for various purposes. Some of them help to comfort and socialize isolated individuals. They may not pass the Turing Test yet, but they are on their way (Japan's electronics giant Sony president Ryoji Chubachi. Getty (still images). 03-06-2008)

The University of Leeds is the epicenter for a whole year of events that celebrate the man’s life, including the TURING 100 Conference on the days surrounding the anniversary. There, major figures in the world of science and technology will gather to give lectures and honor a short life’s work. It’s been 100 years since Alan Turing’s birth, and in that time we’ve come from no computers to smartphones in half of British pockets. Who knows what innovations will have come by the next time we celebrate this anniversary. Any ideas?

Further Links:



Farewell to Our Man from Mars: Ray Bradbury Dies at 91

Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91 on 5th June leaving seven decades of work for posterity.

He was a monumental figure in 20th century science fiction and his genre of choice let him wield imagination to get a message across. He was the master of making the familiar seem strange, and the strange feel familiar.


Still from the Man and His Culture Film from the Open Video Project

"Everyday life might be pretty weird from an alien perspective" (Open Video Project : 1954)


Novels, comics, and stories of all sorts were an integral part of the author’s life from a very young age. Fahrenheit 451, possibly his most famous work, was a scathing commentary on censorship set in a dystopian future.

Person standing behind a sign that reads Art is Patriotic. Censorship Isn't at a demonstration supporting the display of Dread Scott Tyler's flag art at the Art Institute of Chicago.  (Photo by Keith Philpott//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Person standing behind a sign that reads Art is Patriotic. Censorship Isn't (Photo by Keith Philpott//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images 11-03-1989)

That book was published in the 1950s, an era characterised by its enthusiasm for censorship.

Image of a man standing outside next to a theatre poster.

The Theatres Act, which restricted the content of plays was repealed (THEATRE CENSORSHIP ENDS. News At Ten (ITV Late Evening News) 26-09-1968)

Bradbury preferred to call his own works fantasy, rather than science fiction, and although they are fantastic, books like The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles were loved by science fiction fans all over the world.

Picture of a group of people in science fiction costumes.

Humans in otherworldly attire talk about their science fiction favorites. (WORLD SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION. ITV Early Evening News 09-08-1957)

Outside the literary world, Bradbury acted as a consultant at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and in 1982 he was instrumental in the development of Spaceship Earth, the iconic “Epcot ball” at Disney World in Florida.

Image of two men playing early computer games.

Take a look at first impressions of Epcot (EPCOT. News at Ten (ITV Late Evening News) 10-04-1982)

His contributions to science fiction also inspired many to go into the fields of science and technology.

Image of a landing probe.

Mission: Impossible, landing a probe on a comet five billion miles away (SPACE: EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY MISSION TO LAND PROBE ON COMET. ITV Early Evening News. 19-02-2004)

Some of Bradbury’s work describes then-futuristic computers, modes of transportation, and what he believed it would be like to colonise other planets.

Image of the USS Starship Enterprise from the series Star Trek

Power in the Star Trek universe may be closer to reality than we think (ANTI MATTER ATOMS CREATED. Channel 4 News (Channel 4 Early Evening News). 01-05-1996)

Curl up with one of Bradbury’s books over the weekend. Or any book, for that matter – that’s what he would have wanted.


Further Links:


Partners’ Exhibitions Bring Shakespeare To Life

The London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad are ramping up, and that means the World Shakespeare Festival is now in full swing.  With that in mind we thought it would be a great time to tell you a bit more about some of the partners we are working with for Will’s World and the types of material that the Will’s World registry will connect to.

One of our partners, the British Museum, has gathered up as much tangible history that relates to Shakespeare’s work and life as they could and have partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring it to life as part of their participative offering.

'The Way of the World' is comedy and tragedy. Image © Trustees of the British Museum

The resulting exhibition, ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’, will explore the influence Shakespeare had on the people’s minds with the sway of his pen. Visitors will be able to take a behind-the-scenes look at Will’s integral role in shaping 17th century London.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Developers accessing the Will’s World registry will be able to access and develop new uses and combinations of the digitised materials associated with the exhibition.

17th Century New Media

Plays and professional theatres were the new media of the day. Up until that point the public had no such access to theatre with the travelling players and productions – such as those at the centre of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – very much the preserve of wealthy patrons. The technology of theatre was also radically changed with the first building of professional theatre buildings and the amplification, lighting, and special effects such spaces afforded. To Elizabethans, art at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre was state of the art, and the ‘house dramatist’ had to entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

Theatre has had a unique capacity to transport the audience to the far reaches of history and the British empire. Time and space were no match for the The Globe, and so it became the people’s information source. And compared to bear-baiting, it must have been a no-brainer.

The original Globe Theater. Image © 2012 National Library of Scotland

Hold the Sweetmeats

The exhibition at the British Museum shares icons of Shakespeare’s inspiration, but also timeworn objects like a sucket fork. Fortunately, though, eating the ‘sweetmeats’ it was used on aren’t part of the experience.

The playwright’s most precious legacies, literary icons, have been brought to life by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Their performances will transport us to standing grounds of The Globe when London was still coming to terms with the world at its doorstep.

Whilst the British Museum is looking at Shakespeare’s world through the lens of the emergence of London as a city, the National Libraries Scotland’s recent ‘Beyond Macbeth‘ exhibit explored the lives that kept Shakespeare’s works alive and well in Scotland. Without their help, there’s little wonder whether a 413 year old copy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on showcase would have survived.

Print from the play Romeo and Juliet. Image © Trustees of the British Museum

Knowing ‘The Bard’

By understanding the lives and personalities of Scottish icons like William Drummond and the Bute family, and why they prized his works, we can better understand contemporary society near-after Shakespeare. Re-examining the work of these people bring us closer to knowing the bard.

The National Library of Scotland brought Shakespeare into the present with modern takes on his stories and a series of specially commissioned shorts that had Edinburghers delivering their favorite lines. The exhibit also placed sculptures of signature quotes around the city. Seeing ‘double, double toil and trouble’ in the dark evening fog is more than a little hair-raising.

"This place is too cold for hell" Sculpture Associated with the National Library of Scotland Macbeth Exhhibition

National Library of Scotland Word Sculpture

Though the exhibition has now come to an end the collections live on at the NLS and the digitised materials will be available for further creative and modern reinvention via the Will’s World registry.