Sunday, 17 June 2012

Guest Post by Alan Turing Year Chair: Professor S. Barry Cooper

Professor S. Barry Cooper Chair of the Alan Turing Centenary Year writes a guest post for this blog:

"The Alan Turing Year has turned out to be beyond anything people expected,even two years ago. All over the world there are people for whom AlanTuring means something very special. It turns out there areTuring-followers in unexpected places like Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong ...high school students in Beijing, computer scientists in Kolkata,philosophers in Manila. More and more it is obvious that it is the meaningof Turing's life and science for us now, and the vitality of his thinkingabout how the world works, that carries such a burden of very personalsignificance for so many of us.
Last night I was at the premier of Patrick Sammon's "editor's cut" of his"Codebreaker" film (showed last November on Channel 4). Bob Lubarsky, gaymathematician extraordinaire was speaking first, and it was a realkaleidoscope of takes on being a gay scientist. I liked the lightly ironicplay on Alan Turing's 'crime' as a victimless one. No, he said there was avictim - Alan himself. And then he quoted that oft repeated description of"the law as it was at the time" - which made the crime - the one againstAlan Turing - a "perpetratorless crime".
After fulfilling my promise to Bob to go to his talk, I meant to be offback to work (working until the early hours most nights on Alan'scentenary year), but was immediately gripped by the Patrick Sammon filmbefore I could get to the door, and intrigued to see what other materialhe'd included in the new version. It was great, and a must-see for anyonecares about Turing and his science. But I still wanted to see morelesser-known people. For instance, such unique Manchester figures as:Bernard Richards who was Alan Turing's MSc student in the years beforeAlan's death, and speaks so interestingly on the emergence of patterns innature, and tells such interesting stories of Alan's foibles and genius -Bernard was in the audience that evening, maybe hoping to see hisinterview validated on film before catching his train back to Manchester;and Alan Edwards, who used to visit the same gay haunts of Manchester asAlan Turing, and can really relate what it was like to be gay in a bignorthern city in the early 1950s - and they do have him on film. I was atschool at that time, on the south coast, but know in a way younger peoplecan't easily what a foreign country the past is. No huge Gay Pride marchesin the Manchester of those days.
Whenever I think about Alan's drive to explore the limits ofcomputability, I can't help thinking about how real-world incomputabilitycatches us all out, and certainly did Alan Turing in his final years. Howhe was fascinated with human thinking and what nature is doing, and howthere is still so much left for us to try and make sense of - in fact, hedid say something like that: "We can only see a short distance ahead, butwe can see plenty there that needs to be done." As we grapple withproblems in science and in life, we often find Turing's been there before us."

 © Professor S. Barry Cooper 2012

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