Turing at the Science Museum

There’s a rather fine exhibition at the Science Museum at the moment about Alan Turing, the pioneering computer scientist and philosopher who was born 100 years ago. What particularly appeals is that while there is only a limited number of objects, all of them matter.

This is hefty stuff, invaluable weighty objects that demand attention – so it’s blockbuster, but not in the usual way of throwing everything at a room in an attempt to wow the audience into submission at the sheer scale of things. Instead, the museum has cherry picked a dozen important objects that most reflect Turing’s life – the life of one of the most important figures of the 20th century – and let them tell the story. As the curator David Rooney told me, ‘A lot of what Turing did was very abstract. We wanted to show it had a real impact on the world.’

Featured items include an Enigma machine on loan from the secret staff-only museum at GCHQ, the Pilot ACE (one of the world’s first computers), a cybernetic tortoise, a 1930s differential machine made out of Meccano, Turing’s pathology report (which shows he drank a large amount of cyanide, more than you could consume by accident or put in an apple) and a section of a crashed Comet jet, which the Pilot ACE was used to analyse to see why it exploded in mid-air.

Enigma machine

Crashed Comet G-ALYP, 1954.

Pilot ACE

Meccano differential analyser

Here’s a film of the tortoise in action.

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2 responses to “Turing at the Science Museum

  1. I thought the exhibition was sadly lacking – nether fish nor fowl. Came out none the wiser about the machines on display (I thought the Science Museum should at least have SOMETHING about the science), and was presented with a sketchy and bowdlerised potted biography of a great man. With 3 lousy ‘interactive’ exhibits bolted on as an afterthought — one of which had already broken.
    Such a pokey exhibition space too, with no sense of how to engage with the material. Call me old-fashioned, but I find the browsing/internet approach to museum exhibits deeply frustrating. And it didn’t even address the fundamental factoid about Apple’s logo!

  2. The museum is nice combination of arrangement and exhibit of past things. Which lead us past reminiscence and creativity? It will multiply our though and idea. Thanks for great share

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