by Juan José Moreno Navarro
A few years ago, Time magazine published a list of the 100 greatest minds of the 20th century, which included Alan Mathison Turing, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, the DNA breakers Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming.
As clearly shown by the special theme section, we have Turing to thank for many concepts that underpin technologies that are now part of our daily lives: the first computers, the program stored, artificial intelligence, software verification and modelling. Without Turing and his brilliant ideas we would not be able to shop online, watch a video on a tablet, remotely manage our finances, play our favorite music on an mp3 device, send emails, get an x-ray or travel on high-speed trains. Like many great ideas, such as the wheel or the arch, which in hindsight seem obvious, with his one invention, the general-purpose computer, Turing changed the world.
What is remarkable about Turing is the breadth and scope of his contributions to society. While some of the individuals on Time’s list have made their mark in history with a single great contribution, Turing made numerous contributions., He was responsible for: the foundations of artificial intelligence, proposing the Turing Test, the basis of the verification and validation of software, the first uses of algorithmic modelling of natural phenomena (in this case, biological or morphogenesis patterns), connectionist networks, and more. Few scientists have been such visionaries in their field as Turing was in Computer Science.
A wonderful way to honour Turing is to raise public awareness of his work. Whilst the achievements of scientists like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein are widely appreciated by the general public, fewer people are aware of the work of Turing, although his ideas arguably have had an even greater impact on our daily lives.
Unfortunately there is much work to do: even those with the best intentions, in trying to popularize Turing’s work, have tended to focus on his work as an accomplished code breaker and hero of the Second World War or his contribution to Artificial Intelligence. But his contributions to the creation of the modern computer deserve a place of honour in the Olympus of the greatest scientists of all time.
The commemoration of Turing Year / Year of Informatics is coordinated by the Spanish Scientific Computer Science Society (SCIE – www.scie.es) in collaboration with the Conference of Directors and Deans of Computer Science of Spain (CODDII – coddii.org). It began in Madrid with a formal opening ceremony on 27 July, and will end in June 2013. After that, SCIE will organize the Spanish Conference of Informatics - CEDI, a biennial event that brings together more than 2,000 Spanish researchers in computer science. An Organizing Committee is coordinating the event, with the assistance of an Advisory Committee chaired by Prince Felipe de Borbón.
As well as being a tribute to Turing, the celebration in Spain has an additional goal in showing colleagues, science policy makers and the general public that Computer Science (CS) is a very active area of research with excellent indicators: Spain occupies the 7th place in the world ranking, produces around 7% of Spanish scientific publications and represents around 3.6% of the CS production of the world, being, in summary, the most dynamic research subject area in Spain.
In celebration of the Turing year we have planned several activities including academic, scientific, dissemination and industry collaboration. Check http://turing.coddii.org/turing for a detailed list of activities.
Two of the academic and scientific activities of note include: the 7th annual celebration of the National Awards in Informatics, and a summer course in the prestigious Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo entitled “1st Meeting in Commemoration of Alan Turing”. This very successful and exciting meeting took place in August 2012..
In the dissemination area we have been actively engaging with media. We have had media coverage in high profile newspapers, broadcasting and TV and there will be more to come. In particular, a blog is running in El País (the most followed newspaper in Spain). This is a Spanish-language blog that can be viewed at http://blogs.elpais.com/ turing/. We are also planning activities in museums and schools and an ambitious exhibition on computer art developed in Spain in the sixties. The exhibition, which is usually based in Madrid, will be visiting several other cities in Spain.
Our goal is to act as exemplary and enthusiastic ambassadors of computer science and to provide Spanish society with a deeper understanding of a singular figure and of the discipline of Computer Science.
Juan José Moreno Navarro
Head of organizing Committee, Turing year in Spain
Technical University of Madrid, Spain