Turing papers saved for the UK

Bletchley Park, the centre of World War Two code-breaking, has gained a collection of papers written by mathematician Alan Turing, after receiving last-minute donations
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Alan Turing's personal collection of academic and other papers has been purchased by the Bletchley Park Trust for the nation, after funds were raised at the last minute.

The papers were put up for auction in November by a private collector, but failed to meet the reserve price of £300,000. The collection of offprints and other documents will now be housed at Bletchley Park, the Trust announced on Friday.

Alan Turing paper

A collection of mathematician Alan Turing's papers has been bought by the Bletchley Park Trust. Photo credit: Bletchley Park Trust

"This is part of Britain's national heritage," Trust director Simon Greenish told ZDNet UK. "Alan Turing was without doubt one of the most important people in the 20th century."

Turing was a mathematician and World War Two code-breaker who is widely credited with breakthroughs that were essential to the Allied war effort and advanced computer science.

The collection of papers includes an offprint of Turing's seminal essay Computing Machinery and Intelligence, published in Mind in 1950, which introduced a test for artificial intelligence now called the Turing test. The collection also holds a copy of On Computable Numbers, which described the Turing machine, a thought experiment that helped computer scientists understand the parameters of mechanical computation.

Fund-raising efforts to try to secure the collection were kicked off by IT journalist Gareth Halfacree, who managed to raise £28,500 in a short space of time. The funds were swollen by Google, which pledged $100,000 (around £62,000). The government-supported National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) stepped in after the auction to provide £213,437, while approximately £20,000 was given by a private benefactor. Greenish declined to say whether the benefactor was an individual or an organisation.

Bletchley Park Trust itself did not start fund-raising efforts, as it thought there was not enough time to raise the money, said Greenish.

The papers, which were delivered to Bletchley Park on Friday morning, were collected by Professor Max Newman, a friend and tutor of Turing's who was also a fellow Bletchley Park codebreaker.

In recognition of Turing's work, a committee of MPs recently recommended that a planned group of technology research and innovation hubs be called 'Turing Centres' after the mathematician.

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