Turing’s Universal Machine Voted Greatest British Innovation of 20th Century

25 March 2013

Over 50,000 votes have been counted and the Universal Machine has triumphed in a closely fought race to be voted the greatest British innovation of the past 100 years.

Imagined by WWII codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing in the 1930s, the Universal Machine provided the theoretical basis for all modern computing.

“We owe him a huge debt,” said Stephen Fry, who has championed Turing’s innovation throughout the vote. “His Universal Machine idea laid the logical and mathematical foundations of the technology you're using to read this.”

X-ray crystallography – which revealed the hidden atomic structure of compounds and celebrates its centenary this year – and the iconic Mini rounded out the top three greatest innovations from a shortlist of around 100. Leading figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and presenter Evan Davis, championed their favourite innovations and sparked heated debate across Twitter.

“The vote has been an exciting battle between the tangible products of British ingenuity, such as Mallard and the Mini, and innovative ideas, such as Turing’s Universal Machine,” commented Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group. “We’ve started an interesting public debate about innovation, particularly how creativity and technology feed into scientific discoveries.”  

Ionic liquid chemistry was voted as the innovation most likely to shape the 21st century. “We are delighted to win, as this will shine a very public spotlight on how a team of chemists can dramatically improve the quality of the environment for everyone,” said Professor Ken Seddon, Director of Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories.

The Great British Innovation Vote website (topbritishinnovations.org) will continue to be available online as a resource of British scientific, engineering and medical innovations.

The Great British Innovation Vote opened on 15th March and ran until 24th March during National Science and Engineering Week. Over 50,000 votes were cast online via topbritishinnovations.org.

Shortlisted innovations in the Great British Innovation Vote were compiled by the GREAT Britain campaign, the Science Museum Group, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, British Science Association, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Engineering UK.