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By the end of 1945, thanks to wartime developments in digital electronics, groups in Britain and in the United States had embarked on creating a universal Turing machine in hardware.Turing headed a group situated at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington, London.It was a fabulous idea—a single machine of fixed structure which, by making use of coded instructions stored in memory, could change itself, chameleon-like, from a machine dedicated to one task into a machine dedicated to a quite different one.

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The tape itself is limitless—in fact Turing's aim was to show that there are tasks that Turing machines cannot perform, even given unlimited working memory and unlimited time.

A Turing machine has a small repertoire of basic operations: move left one square, move right one square, print, and change state. The scanner can print a symbol on the scanned square (after erasing any existing symbol).

By changing its state the machine can, as Turing put it, 'remember some of the symbols which it has "seen" (scanned) previously'.6 Turing did not specify a mechanism for changing state—Turing machines are abstractions and proposing a specific mechanism is unnecessary—but one can easily be imagined.

Suppose that a device within the scanner consists of a dial with a finite number of positions, labelled 'a', 'b', 'c', and so on, each position counting as a different state.

Harry Huskey, the electronic engineer who subsequently drew up the first detailed hardware designs for the EDVAC, said that the information in von Neumann's report was of no help to him in this.3 Turing, in contrast, supplied detailed circuit designs, full specifications of hardware units, specimen programs in machine code, and even an estimate of the cost of building the ACE.

Part I of 'Alan Turing, Father of the Modern Computer' provides an overview of Turing's many major contributions to the development of the computer and computing—including his pioneering work in the areas now called Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life. This is simply one of the best tales in the history of computers.

Von Neumann's 'First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC', completed in the spring of 1945, also set out a design for an electronic stored-program digital computer ('EDVAC' stood for 'Electronic Discrete Variable Computer').

Von Neumann's report, to which Turing referred in 'Proposed Electronic Calculator', was more abstract than Turing's, saying little about programming or electronics.

His technical report 'Proposed Electronic Calculator', dating from the end of 1945 and containing his design for the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), was the first relatively complete specification of an electronic stored-program digital computer.

In the United States the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann shared Turing's dream of building a universal stored-program computing machine.

(These and other historic documents are now available online in The Turing Archive for the History of Computing.) Part III of 'Alan Turing, Father of the Modern Computer' is a digital facsimile of 'Proposed Electronic Calculator', Turing's 48-page report describing his revolutionary electronic computing machine. (A paper version of the report is available in the book Alan Turing's Automatic Computing Engine.) Four more electronic stored-program computers become operational: EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) at the University of Cambridge, followed by BINAC (Binary Automatic Computer) in the U.

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