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Alan Turing Letters and Papers should be saved for the Nation

You are here: Home / Blog / Digital and New Media / Alan Turing Letters and Papers should be saved for the Nation
18
Nov
I have asked Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, to step in and save these papers for the Nation should they be sold to an overseas bidder:

From Christie's web site:

"Lot Description
TURING, Alan Mathison (1912-1954). A collection of Alan Turing's offprints formed by Prof. Maxwell Herman Alexander Newman (1897-1984), 1936-1954, comprising:

TURING'S FIRST PUBLISHED PAPER:
'Equivalence of left and right almost periodicity.' Offprint from: Journal of the London Mathematical Society, vol. 10. London: 1935.
THE FOUNDATION OF MODERN DIGITAL COMPUTING:
'On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem.' Offprint from: Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, ser. 2, vol. 42. London: November 12th 1936. Provenance: MAX NEWMAN (light annotation in his hand in red chinagraph and lead pencil). [With:] 'On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem. A correction.' Offprint from: Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, ser. 2, vol. 43. London: 1937. Provenance: E. S[ARA] TURING (pencil signature of Turing's mother).

AUTHOR'S PRESENTATION OFFPRINTS TO HIS MENTOR:
'Computability and -\kl\K definability.' Offprint from: Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. 2, no. 4. Princeton, NJ: 1937. [And:] 'Finite approximations to lie groups.' Offprint from: Annals of Mathematics, vol. 39, no. 1. Princeton, NJ: 1938. [And:] 'Practical forms of type theory.' Offprint from: The Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. 13, no. 2. Princeton, NJ: 1948. Provenance: all inscribed in pencil IN TURING'S HAND with the name: -- M[ax] H.A. Newman.

TURING'S PIONEERING WORK ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE:
'Computing machinery and intelligence.' Offprint from: MIND: a quarterly review of psychology and philosophy, vol. LIX, no. 236. London: 1950.

THE ONLY PUBLISHED EVIDENCE OF TURING'S WORK ON THE AUTOMATIC COMPUTING ENGINE, AND HIS ONLY WORK WITH A COMMERCIAL APPLICATION:
'Rounding-off errors in matrix processes.' Offprint from: The Quarterly Journal of Mechanics and Applied Mathematics, vol. I, part 3. Oxford: 1948. [With:] Three Patent Specifications referring to Turing's invention, use and development of mercury acoustic delay lines as a means of computer memory storage, various dates, 1953-1954, each Patent including diagrams of apparatus.

The collection also includes TURING SIGNATURES, WHICH ARE EXTREMELY RARE IN COMMERCE:
[NEWMAN, Maxwell Herman Alexander & Lyn Irvine NEWMAN]. Visitors' book of the Newman household, 1945-1963, INCLUDING 4 SIGNATURES OF ALAN TURING, 24-26 Feb 1947, 27-28 Nov 1947, 1-2 June 1948 & 2-5 July 1948, other signatures of early computing pioneers including Shaun Wylie and Pat Blackett, 20 ff. of mss, 4°. Turing, as a good friend of the Newmans, visited them on several occasions. His name appears (in pencil in Lyn Newman's hand) for 9-14 April 1954; and rather poignantly, his mother's signature appears 6 visits further down the page 18-25 June 1954, ten days after Alan's death.

Sold with SEVEN OTHER OFFPRINTS, including his work on morphogenesis, as well as copies of 'Solvable and unsolvable problems' in Science News no. 31 (Penguin Books, 1954) and Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol. 1. London: 1955. This latter contains Newman's obituary of Turing, complete with a bibliography, for the compilation of which this collection of offprints was assembled. Contained in a modern cloth box.

AN UNPARALLELED COLLECTION OF THE WRITINGS OF THE FOUNDER OF MODERN COMPUTING SCIENCE, AND ONE THAT IS UNLIKELY TO BE REPLICATED. It was Max Newman, one of Turing's few supporters and friends, who in 1935 introduced Turing to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, and in particular to the question: is mathematics decidable? Turing tackled this problem, known by its German name, Entscheidungsproblem, by producing a paper of startling originality: On Computable Numbers. In it, he described how machines might be able to produce lists of computable numbers that would give rise to irrational numbers. This demonstrated that mathematics was undecidable, and in turn demolished the Entscheidungsproblem.

As it turned out, Turing had been pre-empted by Prof. Alonso Church at Princeton who had come to the same conclusion by using \kl\K calculus. However, Newman, convinced that the greatness of Turing's paper lay in its application of machines to mathematical problems, arranged for Church to referee On Computable Numbers, and it was duly published in 1936. Despite a review by Church in the Journal of Symbolic Logic in which the phrase 'Turing machine' was used for the first time, Turing only received two requests for offprints.

However, it was on the back of On Computable Numbers, that Turing was awarded a visiting Fellowship to Princeton, where he worked with Church. There he also renewed his aquaintance with John von Neumann. Turing was already familiar with von Neumann's work -- his first published paper was a small refinement of a paper written in 1934 by von Neumann regarding group theory. This group theory was later to become extremely valuable in the cryptanalytic work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The collection contains two other offprints on group theory, one of which, Finite approximations to lie groups, arose through von Neumann. Later, von Neumann himself came to talk about Turing in the highest terms, and was to lead the vanguard of American computing science (see lots 62 and 64).

Turing's unusual ability to harness mathematical theory of the highest order to practical engineering was to make him invaluable at Bletchley. Indeed, at Princeton he gained access to the machine shop of the Physics Dept. and made an electric multiplier to generate secret numbers for cipher work. Just before the outbreak of hostilities, Turing had met Polish cryptanalysts in Paris (see lot 59), where vital information was exchanged about the configuration of Enigma and the adoption of the 'bombes' that were used to break Enigma codes. Later, Max Newman was to join Bletchley, where he provided the mathematical theory, derived in part from Turing, to develop Colossus, 'the world's first large-scale electronic, as distinct from electromagnetic, computer' (ODNB).

After the war, Turing and Newman went their separate ways. Turing went to work at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Teddington, where he helped develop the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). Newman took the chair as Fielden professor of mathematics at Manchester University (1945-1964), and oversaw the Royal Society-funded Manchester computing project. Despite working on rival projects, Turing often visited the Newmans. Turing, eventually tiring of the internal politics of the NPL (and they probably could not cope with his unorthodox methods), was easily lured away by Newman to join the Manchester 'Baby' project.

It was during this period that Turing produced his seminal paper on artifical intelligence and proposed the 'Turing test' to determine a machine's ability to demonstrate intelligence. He also produced a tour de force of applied mathematics with his paper The chemical basis of morphogenesis (1952). At the time when Watson and Crick were unravelling the physical structure of DNA (see lot 86), Turing was grappling with a theoretical understanding of how information might be inherited.

'The varied titles of Turing's published work disguise its unity of purpose. The central problem with which he started, and to which he constantly returned, is the extent and the limitations of mechanistic explanations of nature' (Newman, obit., p.256).

TURING MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL AND OFFPRINTS ARE OF THE UTMOST RARITY; THERE ARE NO RECORDS OF EITHER APPEARING AT AUCTION IN THE PAST 35 YEARS."






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