A-Z of computing: T is for Tesla and Turing

Tesla and Turing: T is for Technique

Tesla and Turing: born in different countries in different centuries, each making a contribution to modern life that is hard to overestimate. Although working quite separately from each other, Tesla and Turing did overlap. Both spent time in America, Tesla living there for the rest of his life, Turing studying at Princeton til 1938. Turing visited America again in 1942, to study bombe construction and cryptanalysis with the US navy (apparently he was unimpressed with American bombe construction!).  Tesla died in 1943, late enough to witness the impact of Turing’s work.

Alan Turing

To quote Jim Donahue,

Turing is so fundamental to so much of computer science that it is hard to do anything with computers that isn’t some way influenced by his work

2012 is Alan Turing’s centenary year and has seen a great deal of noise about recognition in the form of gracing a new bank note, an exhibition at the Science Museum (which we visited and found fascinating) and of course that Monopoly set.

This recognition is entirely Turing’s due. His contribution to modern computing cannot be overestimated. He was clearly a brilliant man who in his relatively short life made an inestimable difference first to his country and then to the world.

Nikola Tesla

And Tesla? Nikola Tesla was another misunderstood genius, one whose childhood dream was to come to America to harness the power of Niagara Falls. Tesla has numerous inventions to his credit, among them fluorescent lighting and alternating current.

Tesla’s creations were repeatedly overshadowed by his contemporaries, most famously Edison and Marconi. After one court case involving Marconi, Tesla reportedly said,

Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.

According to the Tesla Society,

Tesla’s concept of wireless electricity was used to power ocean liners, destroy warships, run industry and transportation and send communications instantaneously all over the globe.  To stimulate the public’s imagination, Tesla suggested that this wireless power could even be used for interplanetary communication.

This sort of belief contributed to the dismantling of Tesla’s reputation. He went from being “one of the most celebrated personalities in the American Press” and appearing on the cover of Time magazine, to dying “destitute, having lost both his fortune and scientific reputation”. To quote Badass, “Tesla was also completely insane”, apparently falling love with a pigeon. None the less, he received a state funeral and, like Turing, his legacy powers the world we know today.

The Oatmeal’s take on Tesla

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