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Alan Turing at Princeton University

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Alan Turing, who earned a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1938, is considered the father of computer science. Read more.

Video Closed Captions

ANDREW APPEL: 2012 is the 100th
anniversary of the birth

of Alan Turing, who in many
ways is the founder of

computer science.

When Alan Turing arrived at
Princeton in 1936, there was

no such thing as a
computer science

department, here or anywhere.

The math department, as it was
at Princeton in the 1930s, had

been built by Oswald Veblen.

He recruited some of the best
mathematicians and logicians

in the world.

The Institute for Advanced Study
was founded in about

1930, in Princeton, and for
the first 10 years of its

existence it shared a building
with the Princeton math

department, here in
the old Fine hall.

And this is where Turing and
Church and von Neumann and

even, Einstein, would have had
their afternoon tea and


So when Alan Turing was about
23 years old, in Cambridge,

Alan Turing sent his paper "On
Computable Numbers" off for

publication and then he came
to Princeton, to study with

Alonzo Church.

Turing's paper, in 1936, was so
revolutionary that very few

people understood it.

Alonzo Church understood it, at
Princeton, and Kurt Godel,

but these were geniuses.

One could say, that the greatest
computer science

department in the world in the
1930s was the Princeton math

department because

Church's lambda calculus
became the prototype

of programming languages
that we use.

Turing's machine became the
prototype of the computers

developed by John von Neumann at
the Institute for Advanced

Study in Princeton, in which the
program is just stored as

data in the memory
of the computer.

When we program a computer
today, we don't have to go

change the wiring, we just load
in a program and that

concept goes back through von
Neumann, to Turing, and in

some ways all the way back
to Kurt Godel, in 1931.

Today Princeton, in the 21st
century, has a real computer

science department.

It Is one of the great computer
science departments

of the world.

We study many of the same
things that Alan Turing

himself, was interested in; the
theory of computation, the

construction of real computers,
we study artificial

intelligence, which Turing
became interested in in the

late 1940s, we study the
applications of computation to

biology, which Turing
became interested in

in the early 1950s.

We owe a lot to Alan Turing
and the mathematicians at

Princeton in the mid-20th

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