Saturday, November 23, 2013

Alan Turing's 100th Birthday

Alan Turing was a completely original thinker who shaped the modern world, but many people have never heard of him.
Before computers existed, he invented a type of theoretical machine now called a Turing Machine, which formalized what it means to compute a number. Our doodle for his 100th birthday shows a live action Turing Machine with twelve interactive programming puzzles (hint: go back and play it again after you solve the first six!).

A statue of Turing by sculptor Stephen Kettle, on display at Bletchley Park, where he worked to decipher the Enigma code during World War II.

Turing’s importance extends far beyond Turing Machines. His work deciphering secret codes drastically shortened World War II and pioneered early computer technology. He was also an early innovator in the field of artificial intelligence, and came up with a way to test if computers could think – now known as the Turing Test. Besides this abstract work, he was down to earth; he designed and built real machines, even making his own relays and wiring up circuits. This combination of pure math and computing machines was the foundation of computer science.

A photo of Turing completing a race, on display at Bletchley Park.

As a human being, Turing was also extraordinary and original. He was eccentric, witty, charming and loyal. He was a marathon runner with world class time. He was also openly gay in a time and place where this was not accepted. While in many ways the world was not ready for Alan Turing, and lost him too soon, his legacy lives on in modern computing.
Various iterations of the Turing doodle’s design.

Turing is a hero to us, so we wanted to make a special doodle for his centennial. We started by doing deep research into his work. Much of it is abstract and hard to show, so we went through a lot of designs before finding one that seemed workable. Turing Machines are theoretical objects in formal logic, not physical things, so we had to walk a fine line between technical accuracy and accessibility. We struggled especially to find a good representation for programs, and to choose puzzles of appropriate complexity; we did a lot of user testing and iteration, more than for any past doodle. We hope you will enjoy our tribute to this great man.

Posted by Jered Wierzbicki and Corrie Scalisi, Software Engineers, and Sophia Foster-Dimino, Doodler

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