Saturday, 23 June 2012

Alan Turing's Legacy

It's Alan Turing's 100th Anniversary today.

Interesting for me, since I live near Bletchley Park where he worked during the war. I recommend a visit there, its becoming something of a tourist attraction now after years of obscurity.

Born out of the needs of that war, Turing laid the ground work for both modern computation and cryptanalysis. Many other people helped that effort and have been forgotten, something not helped by people re-writing history in films like U-571 and other sensationalist material.

Originally, computers had just one use - mathematical computation. We might think he foresaw many things, but I don't think he even dreamed of the worlds of databases or graphics. The level and complexity of "persistent computing" we now have in PostgreSQL would astound him, though he'd probably not make the distinction between the different layers of software and hardware that we do, only see the whole system working together as being amazing.

I like to think he'd be impressed with what we've done, but I'm also thinking he might observe how much more there is yet to achieve.

On a related note, I saw something that pointed out that Blade Runner predicted flying cars yet all the cops did with them was land next to a static payphone. I guess imagining mobile phones was a stretch too far. Yet we have the mobile phones, but not the flying cars.

Predicting the future is easy. Building it is harder and slower than we like; funding the future is the hardest part.  Turing would have done nothing without a budget, and sheer persistence.

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