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Turing and the Test of Time

Celebrating Alan Turing’s fundamental contributions to the computer age

3 min read
Alan Turing
Image: Pictorial Press/Alamy

The centenary of Alan Turing’s birth is being greeted by an extraordinary response, not only in mathematical and scientific circles but in a much wider public arena. It marks the awareness that he was one of the 20th century’s seminal figures, whose brief life is better appreciated in the 21st century than in his own.

One reason for this fascination is that he was an unworldly person at the heart of an amazingly worldly achievement: the breaking of Nazi Germany’s most closely guarded military ciphers. Entirely unknown to the public in his own time, his tour de force emerged only in the 1970s. (Even in 2012, his wartime papers are still being declassified, and the full story remains unwritten.)

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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