weird fact: Alan Turing was not actually involved in the creation of the first computers at all.

A while ago i casually assumed he was, and got called up on it. I went to confirm and, he wasn’t!

he wrote some papers, and designed the bombe, a machine for helping to decode the enigma machine which was not a general purpose computer.

later, tommy flowers at bletchley park- inspired by turing’s academic papers, designed the first general purpose computer Colossus, for decoding lorenz ciphers.

the common narrative: that Alan Turing invented the world’s first computer to decode the enigma machine, is entirely false. a confusion and mashup of the real facts. there isn’t even evidence that Alan Turing had ever talked to tommy flowers, or met on more than a business/social basis. they just worked at the same place at roughly the same time.

unless i still have my facts wrong, colossus was the first ever working general purpose computer built- operational in 1943. however its existence was kept secret until the 1970s. the first publically known working turing complete computer was 1947’s eniac, the classic aircraft hanger sized vacuum tube computer that captured imaginations of sci fi writers through the 50s and 60s

the military team who built it spun off a company called unisys, more famous today as a patent troll.

Alan Turing’s academic work, which predated his classified work, *was* hugely influential in the first computers and in ongoing AI research. His contributions should absolutely not be understated.

it’s just, he didn’t literally invent any computers. which in a way is disappointing- not just because it seems like he deserves credit for it, but because of how his life has been distorted to create this alluring thriller of a life story that just.. didn’t quite actually happen.

@zens @notclacke hmm, not sure where you are coming from, but from my point of view, the life story of an individual who has a major impact on the course of a world war, then gets tortured by the state he served, is quite the thriller. And he didn’t have to build any computer to clearly see what they could do and how.

@Tryphon @notclacke yep, those things all happened. i am not sure i can explain “where i am coming from” beyond “i was surprised i was wrongly informed about this one fact” and “i feel a little bit grossed out by the assortment of edits and exaggerations that are typically made about him and his life”

@Tryphon @notclacke like, in particular, the portrayal of turing in the film Imitation Game, not very different from Cumberbatche’s other characters- flies in the face of the incredibly quiet, kind and humble man turing was described as by his contemporaries

@Tryphon @notclacke instead we get this underappreciated arrogant genius prone to emotional episodes trope and- it just doesn’t line up to literally anything i have read about turing

@Tryphon @notclacke there is also apparently some kind of debate about the circumstances of his death. i wouldn’t know where to begin on finding the truth of it- but in one version he is so depressed from being imprisoned for homosexuality, he suicides by eating a poisoned apple.

in another version, he was cheerily doing a chemistry experiment and just made a dumb mistake and accidentally contaminated his food.


@zens @notclacke I heartily recommend the biography by Andrew Hodges. Better than any movie. I believe the commonly accepted version is suicide after having “chosen” a chemical castration “treatment” as an alternative to prison.

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