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Dr. Alan M. Turing at The University of Manchester

Alan Turing was a brilliant original thinker. Formally a mathematician, in his lifetime he studied and wrote papers over a whole spectrum of subjects, from philosophy and psychology through to physics, chemistry and biology. He graduated from Cambridge in Mathematics in 1934, was a fellow at Kings College for two years, during which he wrote his famous paper which introduced the Turing Machine, went to Princeton for two years to do a Ph.D., and returned to Kings for a year. At the outbreak of war in September 1939 he was drafted to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park as a cryptanalyst. Here he made a major contribution to the battle to decode the German Enigma encoding's, designing the "Bombe", though he was not directly involved with the later Colossus project. After the war he went to NPL to design a stored-program computer for them, the ACE. But after delays in starting to build ACE he went back to Kings for a year, before being invited by Max Newman to come to Manchester.

Turing joined the Department of Mathematics as a Reader in September 1948, with the nominal title of "Deputy Director of the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory". (The Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory was the room the Baby occupied; there was no known "Director"!) It is not clear what his official duties were initially with respect to the Baby/Mark 1 project. Before Turing started work in Manchester he asked for the Baby order code and sent up a routine for long division, which was corrected and got working by Tootill. As soon as the Manchester Mark 1 was generally available for use in April 1949, he enthusiastically set about using it, especially to investigate Mersenne Primes, in collaboration with Newman. In the summer of 1949 he was instrumental in acquiring paper tape equipment and assisted Dai Edwards in attaching it to the Mark 1. Meanwhile, he was continuing his theoretical work and in 1950 published another famous paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", which anticipated the subject of Artificial Intelligence.

Turing made contributions to the extra orders added in the Ferranti Mark 1, notably the random number generator. It is also likely that he and Newman influenced the comprehensive set of instructions provided on the Manchester Mark 1 in connection with the double length accumulator, since they required multi-length arithmetic for their Mersenne Primes work. (In practice there was little subsequent usage of the Mark 1s for anything longer than double-length arithmetic).

However, the main formal contribution Turing made to the Mark 1 project was that he worked on providing the early software requirements for the Manchester Mark 1, with the full time help of Cicely Popplewell, and wrote the first programming manual for the Ferranti Mark 1. So it was Alan Turing who was mainly responsible for the decision to use the Base-32 Numerical System and he devised with Cicely the Scheme A method of program organisation. He would therefore have been involved in writing the Scheme A Input routines and standard subroutines for general use.

By 1951, Newman and Turing (and indeed Freddie Williams) had withdrawn from active involvement in the Mark 1 Project and subsequent computer development, leaving the newly-arrived Tony Brooker to look after the interests of the programmer.

However Turing was still a keen user of the computer as a tool for his research interests, which now turned to "morphogenesis", the theory of growth and form in biology. And he was was always ready informally to help out other programmers of the Mark 1 with their problems.

Alan Turing remained at Manchester till his untimely death in June 1954.

Useful Links :

Author: Brian Napper last updated May 1999. Full acknowledgements

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For a full biography see the the one on these pages or go straight to the Turing Web Site.