[SIGCIS-Members] My column on Turing and the Invention of the Computer

William McMillan wmcmillan at emich.edu
Fri Jan 17 14:54:55 PST 2014

I read your article with interest, Tom, as soon as CACM came in the mail
Nice job of distinguishing the idea from the thing.

I'm not sure that the lack of an addressable memory, explicit opcodes, etc.
are that crtical.  If Turing had actually built a Turing machine (a limited
version -- hard to find tapes of infinite length) then it would be fair to
say he invented the computer.

Those who thought of mechanical flight can't be said to have invented the

With a computer, it's harder to define "flight."  That's what Turing did.


On Friday, January 17, 2014, Thomas Haigh wrote:

> Hello everyone,
> You may be interested in my newly published Communications of the ACM
> Column
> "Actually, Turing Did Not Invent the Computer." (It was supposed to be
> "didn't'" but I think that was an informality too far for the ACM).
> You can read it at
> http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2014/1/170862-actually-turing-did-not-invent-t
> he-computer/abstract. Or if you do not have an ACM subscription,
> http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom/Writing/CACMActuallyTuringDidNotInventTheComp
> uter.pdf.
> This had its origins in my presentation of some of my ongoing work on ENIAC
> over the summer, where I was discussing the different clusters of ideas
> found in von Neumann's 1945 "First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC." I'd
> expected that any questions about the attribution of these ideas to von
> Neumann would come from partisans shouting that he had merely stolen the
> ideas of Eckert and Mauchly and had preemptively noted that while the
> credit
> for these ideas had been disputed the impact of the report hadn't.
> Instead, all anyone wanted to talk about was how von Neumann had taken the
> ideas from. Turing! Further investigation revealed that a series of
> increasingly tenuous claims about the similarity between Turing's famous
> paper and the "First Draft" had been spreading in recent years, reaching a
> peak with Turing's recent centenary. Professionally trained historians of
> computing largely moved on from the events of the 1940s a generation ago,
> leaving the history of early computing to computer scientists,
> philosophers,
> logicians, and the partisans of various famous machines and their
> inventors.
> (This is beginning to change again, fortunately). I think also that the
> public really has room in its collective memory for just one famous person
> per technology, usually its inventor. Thus if someone has heard of Turing
> doing something famous with computers then they are likely to assume he
> invented the computer.
> Hence the need for a concise and balanced assessment of the actual
> situation. The paper is indebted to discussions with many of you on this
> topic, including Paul Ceruzzi, David Hemmendinger, Edgar G. Daylight,
> Pierre
> Mounier Kuhn, and my collaborator on the ENIAC project Mark Priestley.
> Best wishes,
> Tom
> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org <javascript:;>, the email
> discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. The list archives are at
> http://sigcis.org/pipermail/members/ and you can change your subscription
> options at http://sigcis.org/mailman/listinfo/members
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20140117/ab069a2b/attachment-0001.htm>

More information about the Members mailing list