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The History of Computing

199 EpisodesProduced by Charles EdgeWebsite

Computers touch all most every aspect of our lives today. We take the way they work for granted and the unsung heroes who built the technology, protocols, philosophies, and circuit boards, patched them all together - and sometimes willed amazingness out of nothing. Not in this podcast. Welcome to th… read more


Alan Turing

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Todays episode is about Alan Turing. Turing was an English mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, and the reason he’s so famous today is probably his work in computer science, being the father of what’s often called artificial intelligence. He built the first true working general-purpose computer, although the first Turning-Complete computer would be the Z3 from Konrad Zuse in 1941. Turning was born in 1912. From a young age, he was kinda’ weird, but really good at numbers and science. This started before he went to school and made for an interesting upbringing. Back then, science wasn’t considered as important as it might be today and he didn’t do well in many subjects in school. But in 1931 he went to King’s college in Cambridge, where by 1935 he was elected a fellow. While there, he reimagined Kurt Gödel's limits of proof and computation to develop a model of computation now common known as the Turning machine, which uses an abstract machine to put symbols on a strip of tape based on some rules. This was the first example of a CPU, or Central Processing Unit. The model was simple and he would improve upon it throughout his career. Turning went off to Princeton from 1936 to 1938, where he was awarded a PhD in math, after having studied lambda calculus with Alonzo Church, cryptanalysis, and built built three of the four stages of an electro-mechanical binary multiplier, or a circuit built using binary adders that could multiply two binary numbers and tinkered with most everything he could get his hands on. To quote Turing: “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” He returned to Cambridge in 1939 and then went to Bletchley Park to do his part in the World War II effort. Here, he made five major cryptanalytical advances throughout the war, providing Ultra Intelligence. While at what was called Hut 8 he pwned the Enigma with the bombe, an electro-mechanical device used by the British cryptologists to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages. The bombe discovered the daily settings of the Enigma machines used by the germans, including which set of rotors was used, their starting positions and the message key. This work saved over 10 million lives. Many of his cryptographic breakthroughs are used in modern algorithms today. Turing also went to the US during this time to help the Navy with encryption and while in the states, he went to Bell Labs to help develop secure speech devices. After the war, he designed the Automatic Computing Engine, what is now known as a Universal Turing machine.This computer used stored programs. He couldn’t tell anyone that he’d already done a lot of this because of the Official Secrets Act and the classified nature of his previous work at Bletchley. The computer he designed had a 25 kilobytes of memory and a 1Megahertz processor and cost around 11,000 pounds at the time. In 1952, Turning was rewarded for all of his efforts by being prosecuted for homosexual acts. He chose chemical castration over prison and died two years later in 1954, of suicide. Alan Turing is one of the great minds of computing. Over 50 years later the British government apologized and he was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth. But one of the great minds of the computer era was lost. He gave us the Turing Pattern, Turning Reduction, Turing test, Turing machine and most importantly 10 million souls were not lost. People who had children and grandchildren. Maybe people like my grandfather, or yours. The Turing Award has been given annually by the Association for Computing Machinery since 1966 for technical or theoretical contributions in computing. He has more prizes, colleges, and building and even institutes named after him as well. And there’s a movie, called The Imitation Game. And dozens of books detailing his life have been released since the records of his accomplishments during the war were unsealed. Every now and then a great mind comes along. This one was awkward and disheveled most of the time. But he had as big an impact on the advent of the computer age as any other single human. Next time you’re in the elevator at work or talking to your neighbor and they seem a little bit… weird - just think… do they have a similar story. To quote Turing: “Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We hope you can find the cryptographic message in the pod. And if not, maybe it’s time to build your own bo

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