The London Science Museum is celebrating the life and legacy of forgotten British hero, code-breaker and computer scientist Alan Turing, in a new exhibition.
Alan Turing was a code-breaker, a computer scientist, a mathematician, an ideas man.
His work on breaking the code of the German naval Enigma machines at Bletchley Park in the 1940s is credited with considerably hastening the end of World War II.
In 1945 he wrote the specification for the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), which was one of the most powerful machines in the world when the pilot model was built in 1950, and the forerunner of the PCs we use today.
He has been dubbed the godfather of the modern computer and was a pioneer in the concept of artificial intelligence.
But his life was cut tragically short - his potential unfulfilled and his legacy largely overlooked - as a result of a 1952 conviction for gross indecency, for the 'crime' of being a homosexual.
In this, the centenary year of his birth, the London Science Museum is honouring Alan Turing with a new exhibition celebrating his life and offering "an indisputable argument for his enduring global legacy".
'Codebreaker - Alan Turing's Life and Legacy', says exhibition curator David Rooney, "is a presentation of the remarkable work of a man whose influence is so widespread, yet whose name is probably unfamiliar to the vast majority of people."
Speaking at a preview of the exhibition, Sir John Dermot Turing, Alan Turing's nephew, praised curators for bringing to life the sometimes intangible nature of his uncle's work.
"What I think was interesting to Alan Turing was not all the mechanical cranking of numbers, but it was what the machines could actually do," Sir John says.
"Most of what he worked on was in the realm of ideas - software, code-breaking algorithms, whether machines can think, differential equations underlying morphogenesis.
"It's very difficult to bring that to life, but it's gratifying that the museum has found ways of visualising these things. It's a great tribute to a very remarkable man."
The exhibition includes some of the most important artefacts in the Alan Turing story, accompanied by images, objects and personal recollections that put them into context. Also on show are items that inspired Turing, and were inspired by him.
German military Enigma machines are displayed alongside the hand-written mathematical workings-out that preceded Turing's invention of the electromechanical 'bombe' machine (components of which are also on display) that cracked their codes. The Pilot ACE computer sits opposite the wreckage of a Comet jet it analysed using millions of high-speed computations to determine the cause of its fatal crash.
Peter Barron, director of external relations at Google, the exhibition's sponsors, says: "Turing's inventions rank among the most important intellectual breakthroughs of the 20th century. In the evolution of computing, all paths trace back to Turing."
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Alan Turing's interest in artificial intelligence and 'thinking computers' - sketched out in his seminal 1950 paper 'Computing machinery and intelligence'- inspired the Cybernetic Tortoise on display. Created by Turing's friend William Grey Walter, it was designed to investigate brain function, and travelled around floors, avoiding obstacles, and was attracted to light.
The exhibition also covers Turing's later, unfinished, work on morphogenesis - the development of pattern and form in living things - and his use of mathematics to explore and try to predict those patterns.
But the tale of his ground-breaking achievements and inventions is, sadly, not complete without the story of the shameful treatment he received in the final years of his life. Turing avoided a custodial sentence for his gross indecency conviction by submitting to chemical castration by way of a 12-month course of female hormones. The exhibition includes a bottle of the synthetic oestrogen pills he was prescribed, displayed alongside the pathologist's report that showed his stomach contained 4 ounces (enough to fill a wine glass) of cyanide following his suicide 9 months after the treatment ended.
"Turing's scientific creations and wartime heroics are beyond question," David Rooney says. "But we are able to show a more complete portrait of the man who, far from being the lone genius, can be seen as a convivial character with many endearing qualities."
'Codebreaker - Alan Turing's Life and Legacy' is on now at the London Science Museum until 31 July 2013. Admission is free.