Alan Turing: Exhibition offers rare glimpse of the man behind the enigma

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.

Photo: Nick Heath/TechRepublic

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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