Oh snap – Maurice Wilkes on Alan Turing

He was a real mathematician except that he only learned one little bit of mathematics and then didn’t learn any more. He was no practical organizer and, well, if you had Turing around in the place you wouldn’t get it going.

Looking back, what would you say was the significance of Turing’s 1936 Entscheidungs-problem paper?

I always felt people liked to make a song and dance. Something like the doctrine of the Trinity involved whereas to an engineer you’ve only got to be told about the stored program idea and you’d say at once “That’s absolutely first-rate, that’s the way to do it.” That was all there was to know.

There was no distinction in that paper that had any practical significance. He was lucky to get it published at all but I’m very glad he did. I mean [Alonzo] Churchl had got the same result by other methods.

I liked Turing; I mean we got on very well together. He liked to lay down the law and that didn’t endear him to me but he and I got on quite well. People sometimes say I didn’t get on with Turing but it’s just not true. But then I was very careful not to get involved.

From ACM Communications interview with Maurice Wilkes.