The story of the life of Alan Turing is like a guide to our modern world, chock-full with fake news, scientific hubris, academic plagiarism, misappropriation, gender prejudice, back stabbing, class snobbery, spies and lies. What more could a reader ask?
highfields-arc.co.uk: “The first practical programmable electronic computer Colossus, was designed and built by Tommy Flowers, a Post Office engineer, at his own expense. Flowers himself makes it quite clear that Alan Turing had nothing to do with it:
One anecdote I feel I must recount here is that when someone remarked to Tommy about Alan Turing’s “great contribution” to Colossus, Tommy replied: “Alan Turing had nothing to do with it!” It seemed like it wasn’t the first time Tommy had heard of Turing’s “great contribution” to the engineering and practical breakthroughs that Tommy was crucially involved in – and he was quite keen to put the record straight! (and who would blame him?)”
colossus-computer.com: “The view that Alan Turing’s interest in electronics contributed to the inspiration for Colossus is indeed common. This claim is enshrined in code-breaking exhibits in leading museums; and in the Annals of the History of Computing, Lee and Holtzman state that Turing ‘conceived of the construction and usage of high-speed electronic devices; these ideas were implemented as the “Colossus” machines’. However, the definitive 1945 General Report on Tunny makes matters perfectly clear: ‘Colossus was entirely the idea of Mr. Flowers’. By 1943 electronics had been Flowers’ driving passion for more than a decade and he needed no help from Turing. Turing was, in any case, away in the United States during the critical period at the beginning of 1943 when Flowers proposed his idea to Newman (not to be confused with von Neumann) and worked out the design of Colossus on paper. Flowers emphasised in an interview that Turing ‘made no contribution’ to the design of Colossus.96 Flowers said: ‘I invented the Colossus. No one else was capable of doing it.’”
See below: John von Neumann was a Hungarian and later an American pure and applied mathematician.
We need to stop here and clarify that one of the links below records that it was the code breakers themselves, with Turing, Welchman and Newman at their head, who rejected the Colossus idea, causing Flowers to go-it-alone. It was also these same codebreakers (Turing specifically) who initially tried to reject the unheard-of, Bill Tutte and his application to become a code breaker. He was the person who actually did break the code. This goes some of the way to an understanding of the scientific and class snobbery, internal politics and also just how much history has been distorted to enable the academics to build the myth of Alan Turing.
Wiki supports the Turing myth: “Flowers had first met (and got on with) Turing in 1939, but (he) was treated with disdain by Gordon Welchman, because of his advocacy of valves rather than relays. Welchman preferred the views of Wynn-Williams and Keene of BTM, and wanted Radley (director of Dollis Hill) and “Mr Flowers” removed from work on Colossus for “squandering good valves”. There is nothing a scientist loves more than when he/she is telling other people what they cannot do.
And then Wiki tells us: “Welchman moved to the United States in 1948, and taught the first electronic computer course at MIT in the United States.”
…after previously rejecting the crucial advance to electronic computing. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
Cryptomuseum tells us: “William Gordon Welchman (1906 – 1985) was a British mathematician, university professor and (later an) author. During World War II he was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park (BP) where he became the head of Hut Six. After the war, he moved to the United States and became a US citizen.” Presumably because he was offered a better job?
bbc.com, headline: “Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was warned a World War Two codebreaker had become a security threat 40 years after his “influential” work.”
cryptomuseum.com: “After Frederick Winterbotham had published his book The Ultra Secret in 1974, in which the existence of Bletchley Park was revealed, Welchman thought the time was right to talk about his wartime work as a codebreaker. In 1982 he published his book The Hut Six Story in which he gave a detailed account of the organisation of Hut 6 and the technical backgrounds to the Bombe.
Although 37 years had passed since the end of WWII, the book caused upset with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. Although the book was not banned, Welchman was forbidden to discuss it and his wartime work in public. Furthermore, he lost his security clearance in the United States and could therefore no longer work as a consultant for MITRE (Corporation, working on secure communications systems for the US military).” http://www.cryptomuseum.com/people/gordon_welchman It’s interesting to note at this point that at the time the only UK Official Secrets Act computer-related-gag that would have concerned Welchman was the one attached to Colossus.
It seems the Bletchley anti-valve-computer academics did take Tommy Flowers’ computer secrets very seriously after all?
Wiki: “On 19 February 1946 Turing presented a detailed paper to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Executive Committee, giving the first reasonably complete design of a stored-program computer. However, because of the strict and long-lasting secrecy around the Bletchley Park work, he was prohibited (because of the Official Secrets Act) from explaining that he knew that his ideas could be implemented in an electronic device. The better-known EDVAC design presented in the First Draft Report on the EDVAC (dated June 30, 1945), by John von Neumann, who knew of Turing’s theoretical work, received much publicity, despite its incomplete nature and questionable lack of attribution of the sources of some of the ideas.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_Computing_Engine
The lack of attribution and sources of ideas was presumably Tommy Flowers sole ownership for the design and construction of Colossus? But Tommy had been silenced by the Official Secrets Act and had no recourse.
Wiki, of course has to back not only the official party line, but also the sceptical view and stands on it’s head to protect the reputation of the Turing construct. What the above tells us is that Turing did not completely understand how Colossus worked and did not have a complete working diagram of its electronics. It also tells us that Turing was involved with von Neumann and EDVAC.
More academic shenanigans
rutherfordjournal.org: “Von Neumann’s ‘First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC’, completed in the spring of 1945, also set out a design for an electronic stored-program digital computer (‘EDVAC’ stood for ‘Electronic Discrete Variable Computer’). Von Neumann’s report, to which Turing referred in ‘Proposed Electronic Calculator’, was more abstract than Turing’s, saying little about programming or electronics. Harry Huskey, the electronic engineer who subsequently drew up the first detailed hardware designs for the EDVAC, said that the information in von Neumann’s report was of no help to him in this. Turing, by contrast, supplied detailed circuit designs, full specifications of hardware units, specimen programs in machine code, and even an estimate of the cost of building the ACE…
Wiki’s opening line on von Neumann tells us that: “The von Neumann architecture, which is also known as the von Neumann model and Princeton architecture, is a computer architecture based on that described in 1945 by the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann and others in the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC.”
In fact the the von Neumann archetecture idea belonged to American electrical engineer John Presper Eckert and physicist Bill Mauchly.
Wiki: The term von Neumann architecture arose from von Neumann’s paper, First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC. Dated June 30, 1945, it was an early written account of a general purpose stored-program computing machine (the EDVAC). Goldstine, in a move that was to become controversial, removed any reference to Eckert or Mauchly and distributed the document to a number of von Neumann’s associates across the country. The ideas became widely known within the very small world of computer designers.
Besides the lack of credit, Eckert and Mauchly suffered additional setbacks due to Goldstine’s actions. The ENIAC patent U.S. Patent 3,120,606, issued in 1964 was filed on June 26, 1947, and granted February 4, 1964, but the public disclosure of design details of EDVAC in the First Draft (which were also common to ENIAC) was later cited as one cause for the 1973 invalidation of the ENIAC patent.
Basically, von Neumann stole the architecture but later said it was a mistake, an enduring one since von Neumann architecture is a term still used today.
Who Gets Credit for the Computer?: An Exchange
Bill Mauchly, Jeremy Bernstein, Mark Dowson, and David K. Adams, reply by Jim Holt
…If Holt had only doubted this revisionist history enough to check another source, he could have found that the ENIAC was very busy cranking through a variety of different computational problems from 1945 to 1955 (including one for the H-bomb). By 1948 it had a stored program. In 1949 the Manchester Baby and Mark I, the EDSAC and the BINAC were running. Eckert and Mauchly had contracts in government and industry to deliver UNIVACs. The world was lousy with computers!
The idea that von Neumann was some kind of torch carrier who convinced the world that computers were important just does not wash with the facts. It does, apparently, sell books. The insiders were convinced in 1946, when the ENIAC was revealed and the description of Eckert and Mauchly’s EDVAC was disseminated under von Neumann’s name. The population was convinced in 1952, when UNIVAC predicted the election on national TV. The fact that von Neumann continues to get credit for Eckert and Mauchly’s work is maddening. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2012/09/27/who-gets-credit-computer-exchange/
“ACE” was Turing’s unsuccessful attempt to build a computer post-war. The very same person who has been credited with the design of Colossus and is now revered as the “father of computer science” was unable build a working computer years after the war.
i-programmer.info: “My vivid memories are of a man of medium build with a round head of crewcut hair bending over what we used to describe as an electrified bird’s nest of resistors, capacitors and odd components insecurely fixed to a prototype chassis. All components were held aloft by little blobs of solder. At one end was a power supply delivering several hundred volts. I would watch fascinated as Turing plunged a hot soldering iron in the midst of this wonderwork.
Needless to say calamities happened; sparks flew, fuses blew, and things got hot, but Turing just pressed on.”
The ACE test assembly, as it was called, was never finished. Work started in 1947 and after a few months Turing left to take a year’s sabbatical at Kings College Cambridge. Wilkinson took over control of the project and Turing never returned. ”
rutherfordjournal.org: “Right from the start there was a mismatch of visions. Turing saw himself as building ‘a brain’. ‘In working on the ACE’, he said, ‘I am more interested in the possibility of producing models of the action of the brain than in the practical applications to computing’. http://www.rutherfordjournal.org/article040101.html
But a computer is not a brain, a computer is a machine and a machine is built under instructions from a brain.
A brain, according to science, is the chance result of biological evolution and has no designer.
Some thoughts to ponder
When we consider the ‘Ultra Secret’ nature of Colossus at the end of WWII and how this situation continued until the 1970’s. The fact that “Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was warned a World War Two codebreaker (Gordon Welchman) had become a security threat 40 years after his influential work.”. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to question that there may have been an alternative, a motive behind Turing’s death and a further reason for his posthumous elevation to stardom as a cover story. We read that: “the (Welchman) (1982) book caused upset with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US”. And that: “Welchman lost his security clearance and was forbidden to discuss it and his wartime work in public”.
Wiki: ‘The lavender scare’ refers to a witch hunt and the mass firings of gay people in the 1950s from the United States government. It paralleled the anti-communist campaign known as McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare. Gay men and lesbians were said to be security risks and communist sympathizers, which led to the call to remove them from state employment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_scare
“On 19 February 1946 Turing presented a detailed paper to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Executive Committee, giving the first reasonably complete design of a stored-program computer. However, because of the strict and long-lasting secrecy around the Bletchley Park work, he was prohibited (because of the Official Secrets Act) from explaining that he knew that his ideas could be implemented in an electronic device. The better-known EDVAC design presented in the First Draft Report on the EDVAC (dated June 30, 1945), by John von Neumann, who knew of Turing’s theoretical work, received much publicity, despite its incomplete nature and questionable lack of attribution of the sources of some of the ideas.”
“Turing, by contrast, supplied detailed circuit designs, full specifications of hardware units, specimen programs in machine code, and even an estimate of the cost of building the ACE…”
Was Alan Turing considered a loose cannon by the security services and what secrets does Colossus still hold that even today cannot be disclosed to the world?
Jack Good was the first to use it (Colossus) after the war, getting NSA to use Colossus to do something for which they were planning to build a special purpose machine. Colossus was also used to perform letter counts on one-time pad tape to test for non-randomness.
From simple wiki: At this time the Colossus was still secret, long after any of its technical details were of any importance. This was due to the UK’s intelligence agencies use of Enigma-like machines which they got other governments to buy. The agencies then broke the codes using different ways. Had the knowledge of the codebreaking machines been widely known, no one would have accepted these machines; rather, they would have developed their own methods for encryption, methods that the UK services might not have been able to break. The need for such secrets slowly went away as communications moved to digital transmission and all-digital encryption systems became common in the 1960s.
simple.wikipedia.org: Colonel Winterbotham’s book The Ultra Secret came out in 1975. This broke the secrecy around the Colossus. After that, details about the computer began to become public in the late 1970s.
A 500-page technical report on the Tunny cipher and its code breaking – entitled General Report on Tunny – was given by GCHQ to the national Public Record Office in October 2000; the complete technical report is online.
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