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The Turing Guide

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The Turing Guide cover

Cover of The Turing Guide.

The Turing Guide, written by Jack Copeland, Jonathan Bowen, Mark Sprevak, Robin Wilson, and others, is a book about the life and work of the mathematician, philosopher, and foundational "computer scientist" Alan Turing. It includes 42 contributed chapters by experts in the field and some contemporaries of Alan Turing and is aimed at the general reader with an interest in Turing's life and work. The book grew out of the Turing's Worlds event in Oxford and similar Turing-related events at Cambridge and Bletchley Park in 2012 is due to be published in early 2017 by Oxford University Press.

Alan TuringEdit

Turing in slate

Sculpture of Alan Turing in slate by Stephen Kettle, now at Bletchley Park.

Alan Turing was born on 23rd June, 1912. Although probably most well-known to the public for his work at Bletchley Park in the pioneering days that saw the birth of modern practical computing, Turing achieved fame well before World War II with a seminal account of theoretical computation and his solution to the Entscheidungsproblem. As such, he could be considered the founding father of formal methods. He was also an Olympic-class marathon runner, who refused to conform to the narrow sexual standards of the day and was persecuted for it, while still undertaking fundamental and seminal research on Artificial Intelligence, computer programming, and even mathematical biology.


This volume celebrates the various facets of Alan Turing (1912–1954), the British mathematician and computing pioneer, widely considered as the father of computer science. It is aimed at the general reader, with additional notes and references for those who wish to explore the life and work of Turing more deeply.

The book is divided into eight parts, covering different aspects of Turing’s life and work:

  • Part I presents various biographical aspects of Turing, some from a personal point of view.
  • Part II presents Turing’s universal machine (now known as a Turing machine), which provides a theoretical framework for reasoning about computation. His 1936 paper on this subject is widely seen as providing the starting point for the field of theoretical computer science.
  • Part III presents Turing’s working on codebreaking during World War II. While the War was a disastrous interlude for many, for Turing it provided a nationally important outlet for his creative genius. It is not an overstatement to say that without Turing, the War would probably have lasted longer, and may even have been lost by the Allies. The sensitive nature of Turning’s wartime work meant that much of this has been revealed only relatively recently.
  • Part IV presents Turing’s post-War work on computing, both at the National Physical Laboratory and at the University of Manchester. He made contributions to both hardware design, through the ACE computer at the NPL, and software, especially at Manchester.
  • Part V covers Turing’s contribution to machine intelligence (now known as Artificial Intelligence or AI). Although Turing did not coin the term, he can be considered a founder of this field which is still active today, authoring a seminal paper in 1950.
  • Part VI covers morphogenesis, Turing’s last major scientific contribution, on the generation of seemingly random patterns in biology and on the mathematics behind such patterns. Interest in this area has increased rapidly in recent times in the field of bioinformatics, with Turing’s 1952 paper on this subject being frequently cited.
  • Part VII presents some of Turing’s mathematical influences and achievements. Turing was remarkably free of external influences, with few co-authors – Max Newman was an exception and acted as a mathematical mentor in both Cambridge and Manchester.

Part VIII considers Turing in a wider context, including his influence and legacy to science and in the public consciousness.

Reflecting Turing’s wide influence, the book includes contributions by authors from a wide variety of backgrounds. Contemporaries provide reminiscences, while there are perspectives by philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, historians of science, and museum curators. Some of the contributors gave presentations at Turing Centenary meetings in 2012 in Bletchley Park, King’s College, Cambridge, and Oxford University, and several of the chapters in this volume are based on those presentations – some through transcription of the original talks, especially for Turing’s contemporaries, now aged in their 90s. Sadly, some contributors died before the publication of this book, hence its dedication to them.

With respect to Turing’s body of work, the treatment in Parts II–VI is broadly chronological. We have attempted to be comprehensive with respect to all the important aspects of Turing’s achievements, and the book can be read cover to cover, or the chapters can be tackled individually if desired. There are cross-references between chapters where appropriate, and some chapters will inevitably overlap.

For those interested in personal recollections, Chapters 2, 3, 11-13, 15-17, 35, and 38 will be of interest. For philosophical aspects of Turing’s work, see Chapters 6, 7, 25–31, and 41. Mathematical perspectives can be found in Chapters 36–40. Historical perspectives can be found in Chapters 1, 4, 8-10, 12, 17-24, and 42.

It is hoped that readers will enjoy this volume as part of their library and that they will dip into it whenever you wish to enter the multifaceted world of Alan Turing.


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