Tiny ACE – Exploring Alan Turing’s Automatic Computing Engine

Speaker: Jürgen Müller
Date: Thursday 15th February 2024
Time: 14:30

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


About the seminar

The Pilot ACE computer was built at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington from 1946 to 1951, based on a design by Alan Turing. While intended merely as a testbed for a full-scale “Automatic Computing Engine“, it was one of the fastest computers of its time with a 1 MHz bit clock, and was used extensively for calculations e.g. in aerodynamics.

In the talk, I present the unusual, minimalist concept of the Pilot ACE, a bit-serial architecture designed around ultrasonic delay line memory. The machine essentially knew only one operation – a data transfer from a source to a destination address, with dedicated sources and destinations providing arithmetic and logic operations as well as branching. I then describe and demonstrate my “Tiny ACE”, a scaled-down functional model of the Pilot ACE. Built from simple integrated logic circuits and real ultrasonic delay line memory as used in analog TV sets, it explores the functionality and a bit of the feel of programming the Automatic Computing Engine in 1951.

About the speaker

Jürgen started into computing while still in school in 1980, programming an Apple II. After he completed his physics studies in 1994, his professional focus has been the development of instruments and software for Life Science research which combine optics, digital signal and image processing. His hobby interest has gradually shifted to vintage computers, moving back in time from the microprocessors he started out with to machines from the 1960s and 1950s.

Click to see a podcast of this event.