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Why Did Computer Science Make a Hero Out of Turing?

Why Did Computer Science Make a Hero Out of Turing?, illustration

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

Every discipline that comes of age consecrates its own roots in the process. In footnotes, anecdotes, and names of departmental buildings, occasions are found to remember and celebrate personalities and ideas that a discipline considers its own. A discipline needs heroes to help create a narrative that legitimizes and fortifies its own identity. Such a narrative hardly reflects the complexity of historical reality. Rather, it echoes the set of preferences and programmatic choices of those in charge of a discipline at a given moment in a given place. Each name that gets integrated into an officialized genealogy is the result of discussions and negotiations, of politics and propaganda.

To the general public, the genealogies of physics and mathematics are probably more familiar than that of computer science. For physics we go from Galileo via Newton to Einstein. For mathematics we begin with Euclid and progress over Descartes, Leibniz, Euler and Gauss up to Hilbert. Computer science by contrast is a relatively young discipline. Nevertheless, it is already building its own narrative in which Alan Turing plays a central role.


Valmir Gomes

After Hilbert other mathematicians like Godel and Church also brings seminal contribution to computer science. Simultaneous, analogous and independent of Turing, I think the american scientist Emil Post also formulated the Post computational machine.

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