Alan Turing, the English mathematician, cryptanalyst, and widely considered to be the father of computer science with his 1936 The Turing Machine theory, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this Saturday, June 23rd. To celebrate his legacy and demonstrate how simple computers are, Dutch researchers Jeroen van den Bosand and Davy Landman created a physical manifestation of Turing’s theory using only LEGOs.
The use of children’s toys is a symbolic way to demonstrate the simplicity, and the vast impact, of Turing’s idea:
It’s very simplr, but describes the fundamental capabilities of practically all computers in use today. This means that if something can be done on a computer, it can also be done on a Turing machine. This makes it a great model for scientists to use to discover the limits of computers (e.g. complexity theory) and also to show to a broad audience how a computer fundamentally operates.
The machine was built with a single LEGO Mindstorms NXT set; the only difference between Turing’ theoretical Turing Machine and the LEGO interpretation is the lack of an infinite tape- the LEGO Turing Machine only has 32 positions. The LEGO Turing Machine is currently on display at Asterdam’s Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica’s Turings Erfenis exhibit.
Watch a video of the LEGO Turing Machine below: