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Pilot ACE

making the ‘universal machine’ a reality London,

A large object made up of a wooden computer desk and a freestanding panel. The desk has dials and switches on it. The panel has hundreds of glass valves, some with coloured sleeves.
Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), 1950. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) was the first physical manifestation of the ‘universal machine’ outlined by the mathematician and wartime code-breaker Alan Turing (1912-1954). He imagined a machine that was not structured to create a particular task but one that would be capable of any form of computation.

With the confidence that characterised post-war British technology, an attempt was made by the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington to take on the Americans and help launch a national computer industry. The ‘pilot’ or test assembly of ACE was completed in 1950 and for a short time was the fastest computer in the world.

Science Museum

National Physical Laboratory, Teddington
Key Individuals
Alan Turing, National Physical Laboratory,