Here's an excerpt from Turing's paper On Computable Numbers, published in 1936, in which Turing describes his universal machine.
The machine's ability to write and read programs and data to and from memory, known as the stored-program concept, would give it the versatility to tackle almost any problem thrown at it. That flexible stored program architecture is at the heart of the modern computer's ability to carry out anything from word processing to photo editing.
The versatility of the universal machine and today's general-purpose computers stems from their ability to tackle new computational problems without the need to reconfigure the hardware. They can solve new sorts of problems by simply calling on different programs and data from memory.
Not only that, but if a program's instructions are stored inside a writable computer memory, then the program can modify its behaviour as it runs, which made it easier for early computers to carry out intelligent behaviour such as conditional branching.
Turing's interest in building a computer was reinforced by his experiences at Bletchley Park, where he witnessed the Colossus electronic computer helping to decipher intercepted Nazi communications by carrying out high-speed statistical analysis.
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.
What was not mentioned in the article but also applies for today is that Turing was gay. The British viewed that as a perversion that could be fixed by chemical castration. The irony was that a grateful nation honors him for his major contribution to cracking the enigma code and then turn around and prosecute him as a criminal. His death by cyanide was ruled suicide although some think it was an accident. I am not gay, but I believe that homosexuals are a result of biology than choice. I have met many gay people who said that they were always gay from childhood or birth. They also state that if it was a choice that it would be stupid one considering how marginalized and bullied they are.
I am glad Turing is getting the recognition he deserves, but I am always a bit saddened that in the discussions more isn't made of Tommy Flowers who, although working under the direction of Turing and Max Newman designed and built Colossus - and personally financed it. Things would have taken a great deal longer if the guys at Bletchley hadn't had the expertise of Flowers to turn their maths theorems into mechanical reality. They are all giants in their field and should all be recognised.
When I was in school 40 years ago they barely mentioned Alan Turring or John Von Neumann. The history of computing focused on the engineers like Eckert and Mauchly, or the business men like Thomas Watson. Obviously these guys made big contributions, but without Turring and Von Neumann computers would be the size of office buildings and take a small army to program.
... because of what happened at Bletchley Park during the war, all those involved were sworn to secrecy and the UK Government kept very quiet.as well:) I'm not surprised they were never mentioned. Only in recent years have people learnt more about their contribution. Worth looking at www.bletchleypark.org.uk if you are interested.