Of all the things afflicting those in the developing world, a lack of opportunity does the most to ensure that people do not break free from the cyclical nature of poverty. This became abundantly clear to James Turing who, in 2009, travelled to Ghana and saw first-hand the desperation in which so many live every day. Above all, James was shocked at how a local school managed to operate, let alone deliver an effective education, with only a single textbook to instruct over 50 students. Searching for a way to help the school provide a chance for its students to break free from poverty, James needed only to look to his great-uncle for inspiration, Alan Turing, father of computer science, who once said that “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done”.
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The connection between Alan Turing’s legacy and the work of the Turing Trust, established by James in the wake of his experience in Ghana, is intimate. Alan’s boundless curiosity and desire to innovate led him to create the building blocks for the modern computer, a device which has revolutionized communication, work, and social action far beyond what he might have imagined. For anyone fortunate enough to own a computer, it is a truly transformative device, one which opens up a world of opportunity.
In an extraordinary experiment first conducted in 1999 by Sugata Mitra, a computer was set up in a kiosk with internet connection in Delhi, India, and made open to the public for use. The result was that neighbourhood children, drawn out of sheer curiosity and completely unassisted, learned how to use the computer, navigate the internet, and even became competent in conversational English, skills which enabled them to seek jobs which beforehand were completely out of reach. Inspired by this and other similar examples, a major focus of the Turing Trust is to teach computer literacy and establish computer labs, such as the one currently nearing completion thanks to funds raised by the Trust in the Afoako Integrated Community Centre for Employable Skills (ICCES) in Ghana, thereby allowing similar opportunities to the local population.
There is no question that Alan Turing’s excellence in the field of information technologies has vastly improved the lives of many throughout the world. In an article for Time Magazine about the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Paul Grey wrote that "The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine." However, until now, many of these benefits have largely gone into relatively affluent, developed countries (keeping in mind, of course, that progress in the computer sciences have vastly aided development in these countries!). One of the central aims of the Turing Trust is to bring these benefits in a lasting and self-sustaining way to rural communities in Africa. James Turing says of this goal, "By sharing with those less fortunate than ourselves the gifts and opportunities which Alan gave to the West, the Turing Trust hopes to expand the opportunities available to the village children of Ghana enabling them to live happier, healthier lives".
It is this philosophy, along with the inspiring legacy left by Alan Turing, which drives the Turing Trust’s passion for its projects. Whether it is the construction of computer labs and schoolhouses for the Ghanaian children which its sponsors, the donation of desktop computers to classrooms or the sending of volunteers to serve as teachers, mentors and peers to students in the ICCES schools, the Turing Trust is committed to extending opportunities to those in greatest need of them.
For more information about how IT skills and programs can and have helped African communities to succeed, please visit our ‘News’ page and read Gordon Bell prize-winner Philip Emeagwali’s speech on the benefits of Africa’s move into the ‘Information Age’.
A full list of Alan Turing Year events can be found at: http://www.mathcomp.leeds.ac.uk/turing2012/give-page.php?13
Please download our celebratory Alan Turing Pub Quiz at the bottom of this page! We hope that the Pub Quiz might provide a wonderful nights entertainment for you and your friends & colleagues. Any donations from the proceeds of the quiz would be gratefully received and could be donated through our secure Virgin Money Giving facility.
A commemoration sculpture of Alan Turing that was presented at Bletchley Park by the Queen in 2011.