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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: June 2014

17 - Alan Turing


Alan Turing was, in a phrase, the founder of computer science. But this article will not rehearse the chronology of achievement or the claims of priority but suggest deeper questions in the motivation and culture of mathematics and its relationship to science and history. There are no definitive answers to these questions, and neither can Alan Turing be comfortably classified as a Cambridge mind; he elicited the contradictions and conflicts of that ambience.


Science now craves public understanding, but popularity sits ill at ease with the years of dedication to learning, challenge to received ideas, and sacrifice of advantage that science requires. Science tries to explain the universe; yet to the public (and to publishers) sits in a small specialist niche. The contradiction is even more marked in mathematics; so few, even within the sciences, can picture modern mathematical research. Recent authors have won praise for conveying the sense of struggle and devotion on the unroyal road, but have done so by omitting serious mathematical content, a musicology without knowledge of music, trying to popularise the essentially unpopular.

This creates an isolation both for mathematical culture, and for individual mathematicians. There are escape routes: one is a parochial tunnel vision, or a sort of mathematical camp, making a joke of everything. But there is a heavier burden for those who see their mathematics as the foundation stone of certainty. Turing expressed this from the beginning.