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B. Jack Copeland: From the Entscheidungsproblem to the Personal Computer


Gödel's classic paper of 1931 did not settle Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem. The young logician Alan Turing took up the problem and in the course of his attack conceived the basic principle of the modern computer - the idea of controlling the machine's operations by means of a program of coded instructions stored in the computer's memory. In 1936, at Cambridge, Turing described the abstract universal digital computing machine on which the modern computer is based. The transition from mathematical logic to electronic hardware took 12 years, and Turing played a central role. This lecture charts the development of the electronic stored-program digital computer, from the extraordinary Colossus computers built for code-breaking during the second world war to the first successful run of a stored program in 1948. Turing's own Automatic Computing Engine, the fastest of the pioneer machines, became a cornerstone of the fledgling British computer industry, and was the inspiration for the earliest commercially available single-user computers.