Dr Paulo Oliva describes Turing's universal machine and how it has influenced his research. Paulo is a University Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London

Alan Turing

The Royal Society obituary of Alan Turing, written in 1955, is striking for its omission of the most famous facts surrounding Turing’s life and death: his wartime cryptanalysis work at Bletchley Park (“he was fully occupied with his duties for the Foreign Office”); and his suicide following a conviction for homosexuality, then criminalised ( “The sudden death of Alan Turing...deprived mathematics and science of a great original mind at the height of its power”).

Turing was certainly the most original British thinker on the subject of machine-based calculation and artificial intelligence since Charles Babbage in the 19th century.  In the 1930s, he used mathematical logic to analyse the working of a theoretical computer.  The outbreak of the Second World War meant that he could apply both his mathematical skills and machine theory to the practical business of code-breaking. The electro-mechanical ‘bombe’ device benefitted from his contributions. By 1945, Turing was working on designing a fully-fledged programmable computer known as ACE, before joining Manchester University and the Mark 1 computer project there.  

Turing’s interest in computing was widespread and imaginative, from the esoteric ‘Turing test’ and the ability of machines to think; to prototype computer chess programmes of the type commonly played today.

(written by staff at the Royal Society)

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