Turing Papers Saved for Bletchley Park

Lottery money is buying key papers of computing pioneer Alan Turing for the Bletchley Park museum

A lottery grant has bought the papers of computing genius Alan Turing, which will be saved for the nation at the Bletchley Park museum in Buckinghamshire.

The annotated papers – which include Turing’s notes on his pioneering computing research, and wartime work breaking the Enigma code at the Bletchley Park centre – were put up for auction last November, and eventually bought by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, when an Internet campaign fell short of the asking price.

£200,000 Lottery donation

When the auction was announced by Christie’s, tech writer Gareth Halfacree started a JustGiving campaign, which raised £23,000. That auction failed to meet the reserve price, and the National Heritage fund, which uses money raised from the lottery, has now put in £200,000 to buy the papers.

The papers were given by Turing to his friend Professor Maxwell Newman, and include annotations in turing’s handwriting. They will be kept at the Bletchley Park wartime code-breaking site, which is now a national museum of computing.

Turing was a member of the team that cracked the German Enigma Code during the war, contributing to the Allied victory, and afterwards worked on early stored-program computers including the National Physical Laboratory’s Automatic Computing Engine (ACE).

Turing died of cyanide poisining in 1954, following persecution for his sexuality, and 2009 saw prime minister Gordon Brown apologise for the “apalling” treatment of Turing, following a public petition which was signed by thousands.

Important papers

The documents include On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem (1936), a paper which essentially kicked off modern digital computing, as well as patents for computer memory.

The papers also include Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950), a thesis on artificial intelligence which includes a simple criteria, that became known as the “Turing Test”, to determine whether a machine can be said to “think”.

According to the test, a machine “thinks” if it can fool a human into believing he was communicating with another human and not a machine. Arguably, this test is regularly passed by devices – although events such as the Jeopardy appearance of IBM’s Watson are not Turing tests, as everyone is aware it is a machine.