A mathematical machine: Max Newman and early computing at Manchester, 1946 - 1951

Speakers: Simon Lavington
Date: Thursday 21st April 2022
Time: 14:30

25 Copthall Ave, London EC2R 7BP and
Via the Internet using ZOOM.


About the seminar

Max Newman led the cryptanalysis team that developed the outstandingly successful Colossus code-cracking computer at Bletchley Park. After the war he became Professor of Mathematics at Manchester University, where he wished to set up a Computing Machine Laboratory to investigate certain difficult problems in pure mathematics. Accordingly, in 1946 he applied for and obtained a large research grant from the Royal Society. This talk will investigate what sort of computer Newman wished to build or acquire for his proposed Computing Machine Laboratory, what areas of research the Lab should spend its time investigating and to what extent Newman’s vision was realised. It turns out that some detective work is needed to reveal the story. We describe how, for various practical reasons, computing at Manchester developed along lines unforeseen by Newman in 1946. Nevertheless, the outcomes were such that, by 1951, the University had made its mark on the world-wide computing scene.

About the speaker

Simon Lavington has had a long interest in the history of computers being the author of several books on the subject. As the creator of the Society’s Our Computer Heritage website he is a leading member of the Computer Conservation Society. His career in computer science started at the University of Manchester with the Atlas Computer and he is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Essex.

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