Codebreaker: Alan Turning @The Science Museum

Alan Turning

Alan Turing, is a man regarded as one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th Century and widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. The Science Museum in London is hosting an exhibition exploring the life and legacy of the great Alan Turing – wartime codebreaker, mathematician, and one of the twentieth century’s most influential computer scientists.

Pioneer of modern computing and Enigma codebreaker to be celebrated by new Science Museum exhibition.

An exhibition celebrating the life of pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing will open till the 1st of June 2013 at the Science Museum.

 Codebreaker examines the life and legacy of the great Alan Turning. Turning’s achievements and influence on computer science is still felt today and whose wartime codebreaking helped take years off the length of World War II.

The Science Museum presents the most extensive collection of Turing artefacts assembled under one roof, including machines he devised and devices that influenced him and his colleagues. Together, the collection will offer an indisputable argument for Turing’s enduring global legacy.


At the heart of the exhibition is

  • the Pilot ACE computer – one of the star items since it embodies Turing’s ideas for a universal programmable computer. It was the fastest computer in the world at the time and is a forerunner of today’s machines.
  • Featured alongside is a special simulator of the Pilot ACE, made in 1950 to present the computer’s capabilities to the public.
  • Other key exhibits include a piece of Comet jet fuselage wreckage analysed with the aid of Pilot ACE in 1954 following a series of crashes. The work by Pilot ACE eventually helped to reveal the source of the problem, leading to changes in aeroplane design.
  • Other highlights include German military Enigma machines.
  • Few remaining parts of the huge, revolutionary electromechanical ‘bombe’ machines devised by Turing during World War II to crack codes.

During the War, Turing designed the ‘bombes’ to attempt to deal with the proliferation of enemy messages and therefore pinpoint the location of German U-Boat submarines. Eventually, over 200 were built, each weighing a ton and operating constantly at Bletchley Park and other secret sites in the UK. The exhibition also includes a working aid used to break Enigma, which has never been displayed outside of GCHQ.

Alan Turing on Sark 1931

Alan Turning on Sark, 1931

Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy will give a fully-rounded picture of the man known at the secret government intelligence site Bletchley Park as ‘the Prof’. It will explore Turing’s work on artificial intelligence and his morphogenesis work, cut short by his untimely death in 1954 following a conviction for ‘gross indecency’ and an enforced period of medical ‘treatment’ with female hormones.

Science Museum exhibition curator, David Rooney, said “The exhibition is an opportunity to present the remarkable work of a man whose influence reaches into perhaps the most widespread and increasingly popular public pastime of the 21st century, the use of the personal computing device, yet whose name is probably unfamiliar to the vast majority of people.

Turing’s scientific creations and wartime heroics are beyond question but we are able to show a more complete portrait of the man who, far from being the cold, insular lone genius of popular belief, can be seen as a convivial character with many endearing qualities.

Turing, who had undoubted eccentricities and a particular intensity of thought, debated complicated theories with colleagues while running Olympic-standard races and was regarded with affection by colleagues throughout his career. His treatment at the end of his life is a source of national shame.”

The first electronic ‘universal’ computer will be on display. However, Turing’s idea was to build a large computer, to be known as the Automatic Computing Engine or ACE. But slow progress, coupled with changes in project direction imposed on Turing, left him deeply frustrated, and he quit in 1948. A small-scale trial version, called Pilot ACE, was completed in his absence.

Turning is best known for his work cracking the Germans’ secret codes during the Second World War. He is also regarded as one of the pioneers of computer technology.Turing was was highly influential in the development of computer science, giving a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer.

During World War II, Turing worked for the Government’s codebreaking centre. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted in the development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.

Turing’s homosexuality resulted in a criminal prosecution in 1952, when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United Kingdom. He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that his death was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”. As of May 2012, a private member’s bill was before the House of Lords which would grant Turing a statutory pardon if enacted.

 Codebreaker @ Science Museum

Thurs June 21st 2012 – Saturday 1st Jun 2013

Science Museum (London)
Exhibition Rd


About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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