Spencer cryptography exhibit connects art, mathematics, computing science

LAWRENCE — His brilliance may never be fully appreciated, but a small exhibition this spring at the Spencer Museum of Art seeks to help illuminate the groundbreaking work of Alan Turing, the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist.

"Cryptograph," which runs through July 20, has been organized in conjunction with the many celebrations taking place around the world in honor of the centenary of Turing (1912-1954), and was conceived in consultation and collaboration with KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center  and Biodiversity Institute.

The exhibition features works from the Spencer’s permanent collections that resonate with the kinds of questions that drove Turing’s research: finding meaning in patterns, and finding connections between mathematics and computing, intelligence and natural form.

Turing’s world-changing innovations include the Turing Machine, a conceptual machine that builds on the notion of the algorithm and lays the foundation of modern computing. As a cryptanalyst during World War II, Turing’s breakthroughs in logic allowed him to decipher the German encrypting device known as the Enigma Machine, which was used extensively in communication between German U-boats. Turing was also deeply involved in the idea of “machine intelligence,” and he developed a test for artificial intelligence that is still in use today. Late in his career Turing became fascinated with the field of mathematical biology, a field that explores the mathematical underpinnings of morphogenesis, the origins and evolution of biological form.