My consciousness moves through time
grasping quanta of possibility,
each a moment that will never come again.
Behind me futures that became pasts,
expectations that became memories
hopes that became disappointments.
Before me the labyrinth of the unknown,
no easy paths, the truth a string to follow
to where Ariadne waits.
I stood, head bowed,
drenched by rain and existential angst
That cold, dark Edinburgh night.
What am I? Why is rain?
Time passed, no answers came.
Soft steps, a woman appeared
from the dappled grey mist,
from vague shape into the yellow spotlight.
Long, glistening gown twirling
In some solitary tango.
She stopped, looked at me,
long, raven black hair
framing a pale alabaster face.
Her lips delicate, slightly parted,
The merest whisper of a smile.
Her eyes, the deepest brown,
transfixed my soul;
Spun me round and pulled me in,
An eternity passed, lost
In that infinite Corryvreckan.
The faint call struggled
through the dreich night.
She turned, her silhouette a pendant
Hanging from chains of light. …
Alan Turing was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. In that remarkable period between the two world wars, it was as though people knew that the technology to actually build the long dreamed of machines that could think, at least in terms of computing, solving problems and proving theorems was almost available. The greatest minds bent to the task of determining just what was possible for such machines to achieve. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead tried to develop the whole of mathematics in an automatic, rule-based way and failed. Kurt Gödel conclusively demonstrated that there would always be things that were true but could not be proved in this way. Turing developed a theoretical machine that bears his name. Very simple, and with sequences of operations, or programs, He showed that anything that was theoretically computable, could be represented by a Turing Machine with a suitable program. He went further and imagined a Universal Turing Machine, which with a suitable input could emulate any other Turing Machine. This result remains the basis on which all modern, stored program, digital computers work. He was also interested in Artificial Intelligence and developed the Turing Test, to determine whether a machine could be deemed to be intelligent. Variants of this test still remain the standard for this field of study.
He is perhaps best known for breaking the “Enigma Code” at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. In fact his major achievement there was to build a machine that enabled signals to be encoded fast enough for the information they contained to be relevant and useful. He is credited with shortening the war by several years and saving thousands of lives.
After the war he returned to academia to start building the first true digital computers. His wartime work remained secret and his homosexuality made him a security risk, so there is some doubt as to how big a part coercion by intelligence agencies played in his fate. Male homosexuality was a criminal offence at the time, and he was brought to the attention of the police and prosecuted. He was given the choice between prison, a horrific experience for a gay man at the time, or undergoing a process known as “chemical castration”. He was made to undertake a course of treatment with a powerful cocktail of drugs and hormones, all with known physical and mental side effects. …
I was just sitting there, at the bottom of the stairs with my old brown suitcase waiting for the taxi. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I had been there once on a visit but it was all such a blur. I didn’t know what it would be like or whether there would be anyone like you that I could talk to. Going into a home was just one step away from dying, that was all I could think of. You would have thought my boy Nick could have managed to come and get me, being my last time ever in the home I have lived in all my life, but no, too busy, sends a taxi instead. He is a good lad really, such an important job he has, ‘Systems Architect’ no less, but I am not sure what one of them does! Always flying around the world he is; it’s a wonder his Ellen puts up with it, what with those twins to look after, what a handful they are! …
This morning, when I woke up, I was sixteen again. I grabbed a slice of toast and my helmet, waved to my Mum, then off to school on my wonderful first motorbike. I’m in the sixth form now. When I got there I was eighteen and the final end of year service had just started. I must rush to get the train to Oxford. Wow, look at all those lights, man; Sergeant Pepper, the Floyd, can it get any better than this? Hey, off to London; my first child is about to be born. I must get a job, maybe I can teach. Computers are really cool; computers and punk rock, what a wonderful world this is. Teaching is boring; I want to build things. I know, I will be a systems architect, how cool is that? No, I don’t want to fly the Atlantic again; I don’t want to go to another boring meeting. Maybe I can be a freelance and live somewhere really cool, an island maybe, the Hebrides. Too much travel still, perhaps somewhere where I can work close by, not a city but a town not too far out. Maybe I don’t need to work quite so much; I can do other things, politics maybe. No, the problem with politics is that you have to deal with politicians; perhaps I can just sit and write about things, that Shostakovich is really cool. I am getting tired now; I seem to ache all over all the time. …