“I detest America.”
This was written in one of the 150-odd letters from famous British code-breaker Alan Turing, which have just been found in an old filing cabinet in a UK university.
Reportedly the letters date back to early 1949-1954, and may not have seen the light of the day for over 30 years, when they were last filed and kept in the cabinet.
This is a remarkable find for historians as well as researchers as Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
According to the University of Manchester, where the letters were found, the correspondence provides a unique glimpse into Turing’s everyday working life. Most of the letters focus mainly on Turing’s academic research, and invitations to lectures at some of America’s best-known universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A statement from the University of Manchester states that altogether there are 148 documents, including a letter from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), as handwritten draft BBC radio programme about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and offers to lectures.
The file contains very little about Turing’s personal life and the events around his well-documented conviction for an illegal sex act in 1952, enforced hormone treatment and tragic suicide in 1954. Plus, Turing’s war work on Enigma was still top secret at this time so, apart from a single letter from the director of GCHQ about Bletchley Park, it is not mentioned in the correspondence.
But the letters do give a glimpse into his everyday working life at the time of these events. Plus, some documents also give a brief insight into some of his more forthright personal opinions. For example, his response to a conference invitation to the US in April 1953 is simply, “I would not like the journey, and I detest America”.
The documents were found by Professor Jim Miles of the School of Computer Science, who is also the School’s history co-ordinator. Professor Miles was reorganising the storeroom when he came across an ordinary looking red paper file which had the words Alan Turing written on it.
“When I first found it I initially thought, ‘that can’t be what I think it is’, but a quick inspection showed it was, a file of old letters and correspondence, by Alan Turing. I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long. No one who now works in the School or at the University knew they even existed. It really was an exciting find and it is mystery as to why they had been filed away.”
You can check out his interview here:
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