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by Roman Verostko, 1998

Replica of the Manchester SSEM (Small Scale Experimental Machine).                                       Photo credit: Tom Jeff
Museum of Science & Industry, Castlefield, Manchester.   Note: 1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the SSEM. The 15 Illuminated Universal Turing Machines created for this anniversary pay homage to the role of Alan Turing's seminal work underlying this historic moment..


This series of  Illuminated Universal Turing Machines (UTM's) was created for an exhibition at the University of Manchester on the occasion of the Ninth International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA 1998).   These illuminated UTM's  pay homage to Alan Turing whose work played a role in the development of computers.  The year 1998 marked the 50th Anniversary of  the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM),  nicknamed  "Baby" and known also as the "Mark I prototype".  Built by Frederic C Williams, Tom Kilburn  and Geoff Tootill its first program was run on June 21, 1948. 


"It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence. . . ."
 -  Alan Turing  (Note 1)

 In 1928 David Hilbert had posed a mathematical  problem on the decidability of  whether any statement was provable with axioms following the rules of Logic.  This "decision problem", known as  the "Entscheidungsproblem", has been of great interest to mathematicians since the time of Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716).  Alan Turing's 1936 paper, “On computable numbers . . .".,  outlines a mechanical method for addressing the "decision problem". His  paper outlined a procedure  for computing any procedure that is "computable".  This procedure can be formatted  as an algorithm known as a Universal Turing Machine. A Universal Turing Machine may be viewed as the ancestral gating logic of today's general computers.

The source for the binary code in the illuminations shown here is quoted from Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind (Oxford U Press, 1989, Chapter II, Note 7, pp 93-96).

Detail of the UTM binary text with gold leaf. Click here for full text page (719 kb).

The binary code in the artwork is a "Universal Turing Machine". 

The Illuminated UTM's  are intended to be reminiscent of a two page spread of an opened illuminated medieval manuscript. In the examples shown here the algorithm for a Universal Turing Machine (UTM) is presented in a binary text format as one page with an algorithmically generated drawing on the other page.  The binary numbers are also drawn with the drawing arm of the pen plotter. 


Manchester Illuminated Universal Turing Machine, #1, 1998, 30" by 22", pen plotted drawing
 with gold leaf. Victoria & Albert Museum Collection, London

With several active pen plotters I  came to view my studio as a 20th Century electronic scriptorium and my drawing machines as my scriptors.  For me, the text of a UTM like a medieval biblical text, radiates an aura of authority even though difficult to comprehend. I  undertook illuminating Universal Turing Machines in 1995  to celebrate the work of Alan Turing. These illuminations are works of art and not exercises in computer science. They are intended to celebrate the value and significance of the UTM in shaping cultural change in the late 20th century.   Like medieval Latin that transcended the vernacular and was universally understood by those schooled in Latin so also this algorithm speaks a universal tongue understood by those schooled in computer language. My electronic scriptorium, celebrates the authoratative texts of our time  simil;lar to the way the Medieval monk illuminated the scriptures of their time.

Manchester Illuminated Universal Turing Machine, #23, 1998, 30" by 22", pen plotted drawing with gold leaf.
 St Vincent Archabbey & College Legacy Collection, Latrobe ,PA.
See feature:  Scientific American, "Art by Numbers", August 2018.


The binary code in these works is quoted from Roger Penrose, The Emperors New Mind (Oxford U Press, 1989, Chapter II, Note 7, pp 3-96).

My essays and notes on UTM's:

    Illuminating  a Universal Turing Machine
The  Cloud of Unknowing revisited: notes on a Universal Turing Machine (UTM) and The Undecidable

Note 1 Quoted from Alan Turing's 1936 paper  "On Computable Numbers. . ."  Section 6 outlines his concept of  how the universal computing machine could work. 

Note 2. Entscheidungproblem. Alfonso Church also addressed this problem. His paper was presented to the American Mathematical Society in 1935 and published on April 15 1936. Alan Turing was probably disappointed to learn of Alonzo Church’s proof.  Turing’s paper was not received by the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society until May 26, 1936 and not published until January 1937. While both of these papers reach the same conclusion Alan Turing's  approach was more applicable as a machine. 


London: Victoria & Albert Museum, Permanent Collection
Germany. Available originals: DAM Gallery, Neue Jakobstr. 6, 10179 Berlin, Germany; Email: office(at)  Tel: 0049-30-28098135  Fax: 0049-40-3603753454  Contact:  Wolf Lieser

U.S. Artist's studio by appointment; Tweed Museum, Duluth, MN.

Other Reference:  

For a collection of essays and further reference both general and technical see The Universal Turing Machine: A Half-Century Survey, Edited by Rolf Herken. Springer Verlag 1995, Wien, NY.

Roger Penrose, THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND: concerning computers, minds and the laws of physics (Oxford University Press, 1989).  Chapter two, "Algorithms and Turing machines " provides a detailed presentation of Turing machine logic including step by step procedures for structuring simple machines such as "+1".

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