In this series of articles we profile prominent Mathesons or people with Matheson connections, both from New Zealand and around the world.

John Ross Matheson

john-matheson-2_mobile_.jpg (Custom)John Ross Matheson was a Canadian soldier, lawyer and politician who was a leading force behind the selection of Canada’s striking maple leaf flag in 1965.  The story is told in his 1986 book “Canada’s flag: a search for a country”.  John Matheson died on 27 December 2013 at the age of 96.

john matheson flag (Custom)





Alan Mathison Turing

Alan Turing F1.large (Custom) (2)Alan Turing was an outstanding British mathematician and logician, who is widely regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.  After studying at Cambridge University he became a fellow of Kings’ College aged only 22.  His studies led him to propose in 1936 the feasibility of a machine that could carry out any mathematical calculation if it was represented as an algorithm.  What became known as the ‘Universal Turing Machine’ embodies what a computer is: a single machine that can be made to perform defined tasks if provided with the appropriate program.

During the Second World War Alan Turing worked at the famous code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park, where his skills were largely responsible for the British cracking the complex Enigma codes used by the German military.  After the war Turing’s ideas for an artificial ‘brain’ were implemented in the construction of early British computers.

A German Enigma code machine

A German Enigma code machine

In a 1950 scientific paper Turing posed the question “Can machines think?”, and suggested a way of determining if machines demonstrated what we would now call artificial intelligence.  This involves an examiner linked to a person and a machine through a terminal in such a way that it’s not possible for the examiner to see them.  The examiner’s task is to ask questions of both to determine which is human and which is machine — if the machine can fool the examiner, then it is intelligent.  This test is known as the Turing Test, and you can read plenty more about it here.

Turing’s brilliant career was cut short by his arrest for a homosexual relationship, then illegal, which was followed by the loss of his security clearance, and suicide in 1954 when aged only 41.

A highly readable book about Turing is Alan Turing: the enigma by Andrew Hodges, who also maintains an excellent website about this brilliant but ultimately tragic figure.  I’ve corresponded with Andrew Hodges about the origin of Turing’s middle name, but he hasn’t been able to solve this mystery.  Turing’s father was Julius Mathison Turing, which suggests that it was a family name.

An early programmable computer

An early programmable computer

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