Feeds

Happy Birthday, Turing's universal machine

Solving the unsolvable

Application security programs and practises

It's just 71 years ago this month that a seminal paper from Alan Turing was published, which helped pave the way to today's multi-billion dollar IT industry and confer on Turing the title of father of modern computer science.

As is often the case in scientific endeavour, Turing was actually working on an entirely different task when he stumbled on a way to create a general-purpose computer.

The paper that encapsulated this machine? On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.

The Entscheidungsproblem - which translated from German literally means "decision problem" - referred to a mathematical challenge laid down by German mathematician David Hilbert.

The Entscheidungsproblem goes to the very heart of Hilbert's thoughts on the nature of mathematics. At the start of the twentieth century deep questions were being asked about science and the tools used to think about scientific problems. In the same way that Einstein's work had challenged orthodox views of physics, so Hilbert and others questioned mathematics.

Hilbert posed three fundamental questions: is mathematics "complete", is it "consistent," and - the Entscheidungsproblem - is it "decidable". The first two were answered - negatively - in 1931 by the Austrian mathematician Kurt Godel.

Turing scuppered Hilbert's final question with his 1937 paper although the American mathematician Alonzo Church - later Turing's professor at Princeton - came up with a similar negative analysis a year earlier. The two approaches are generally combined as the Church-Turing Theorem.

Turing's real insight was, of course, the concept of a "Universal (or Turing) machine." He conceived the Universal Machine as a way to demonstrate that it was impossible to solve the Entscheidungsproblem.

But he had also stumbled on what was effectively the blue print for a general-purpose computer and this almost certainly justifies his status as the founder of modern computing.

Copies of Turing's original paper are available online both in facsimile and in text form. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.