Days to Centenary: 262
Alan Turing’s legacy extends well beyond the fields in which he himself worked. Before beginning research for this web site, I thought I knew something about the breadth and depth of that legacy. In fact, I really had no idea of its extent or of the myriad forms in which in manifests itself.
One of the unexpected manifestations I discovered was philanthropy. The Turing Foundation is a private Dutch charitable organization. It has no direct relation to Turing — it bears his name because its founder admires Alan Turing. According to its 2010 Annual Report, the Foundaton distributed €3,771,569 to 103 charities that year. The Foundation supports four policy goals:
- enabling and facilitating education for children around the world
- promoting the arts in the Netherlands
- protecting the natural environment, and
- fighting leprosy and aiding those afflicted with it
The Foundation was established in 2006 by Pieter Geelen and his wife. The Geelens made an establishing donation of €100,000,000.00 (one hundred million Euros) using the wealth he acquired as co-founder of TomTom NV. Geelen was a Turing-o-phile computer entrepreneur who first named a company, and then his charitable foundation, in honour of his hero. As the Foundation’s web site explains the relationship:
The name of the foundation honours Alan Turing (1912-1954), the British scientist who is regarded by many as the founder of modern computer science. His so-called ‘Turing Machine’ laid the foundations for the Complexity Theory; his ‘Turing Test’ is one of the philosophical cornerstones of Artificial Intelligence. Turing also helped decipher the Enigma Code during World War II, which was used by German submarines to key their information.
Turing has always been one of the heroes of our founder, Pieter Geelen. When Geelen and a friend who studied computer science together started a company in 1991, they named it the Turing Machine Company. In 2005 this company was renamed TomTom and it was listed on the Dutch stock exchange. From the proceeds of that IPO the Turing Foundation was founded.
The Foundation began by funding existing projects. For instance, it is a main supporter of the IDEAL Consortium, which is working on developing immunological tests that can detect leprosy at an early stage. More recently it has initiated several projects of its own, including the Turing National Poetry Contest.
The Foundation was created by the Geelens, and credit for it goes to them. At the same time, Pieter Geelen has been inspired by Alan Turing over a period of many years and he clearly intends his own contribution to philanthropy to reflect the importance of his hero to his work and to the world. I suspect that Turing, whose heroic war work was secret during most of his life, and who might well have wondered what posthumous reputation he would have after being convicted of indecency, would be surprised by so public an honour on such a large scale.