Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Erdős and Turing

Only nine months separate the births of two very influential mathematicians, Paul Erdős and Alan Turing, whose centenaries we celebrate this year and last. That's where the similarities end. Turing used philosophical ideas to create models and questions that help us shape the important problems in computer science. Erdős solved combinatorial problems and developed tools and techniques in the process that the rest of us rely on. Turing generally worked alone and Erdős famously "opened up his brain" to so many that we measure our research distance to him. Turing tragically died young nine year before I was born. Erdős lived twice as long as Turing, I've met Erdős and seen him speak. We connect Turing to World War II where he helped break German codes. We connect Erdős to the Cold War that challenged travel between his native Hungary and America.

Turing's work gets celebrated in the broad computer science and logic communities. ACM's highest honor is named after Turing and we just finished a year's worth of activities in his honor. Erdős is a deity in the combinatorics community and gets his centennial conference (in Hungary of course). The most influential Erdős prizes are the ones he gave out for solving his open questions.

You've likely heard much of Turing's life over the past year. For 2013 go read an Erdős biography like The Man Who Loved Only Numbers and learn about another life well lived.


  1. Turing generally worked alone and famously "opened up his brain" -> Turing generally worked alone and Erdos famously "opened up his brain"

    1. Cut and pasted when I meant to copy and paste. Fixed. Thanks.

    2. Turing generally worked alone and Erdos famously opened up his brain.

      "Secret Window" maths edition!

  2. "The most influential Erdős prizes are the ones he gave out for solving his open questions." Were they (at least some of them) not worth ACM honors? I would not compare a "problem riser" with a "model maker". And, if Turing - where remain Shannon, Lupanov, etc.?

  3. Congratulations, Lance! Your blog is one of the few places that got the Hungarian "long umlaut" correctly in the spelling of his name!

  4. Bill and Lance's blog has been mentioned in the list of computer science research blogs here-> (look for entry #2 in the list)