Having bashed the Americans yesterday for ignoring Konrad Zuse, I will take the opportunity today to bash the Germans, or more precisely Horst Zuse, Konrad’s son, and at the same time correct a commonly held myth.
23rd June is the birthday of another computer pioneer, Alan Turing. Turing of course means Bletchley Park and the breaking of the Enigma code. Now Bletchley also means one of the early computers, Colossus an electronic, binary, programmable non-Turing complete, special purpose computer designed and built in order to help the Bletchley code breakers. In a lot of popular sources Turing and Colossus are brought together as if it were obvious, Turing = computer expert, Colossus = computer, 1+1 = 3! Before the war Turing wrote one of the most important theoretical works on computing in the history of mathematics and after the War he worked on two major computer projects but in Bletchley he was responsible for the Bombe a very specialised and primitive form of computer but he was not involved in the design and construction of Colossus.
What does all this have to do with Horst Zuse? Horst is a professor for informatics who also specialises in the history of his father’s work. In one of his excellent lectures on his father’s computers, at which I was present, somebody asked him about the Colossus, his answer: “The Colossus was not a computer”. It would appear that Horst Zuse is as blind to his father’s competitors as the Americans to theirs.