CSIRAC, c. 1949-64. Collection Museum Victoria. On display, Melbourne Museum. The Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game might have depicted the real-life exploits of British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped decrypt the German Enigma code during World War II, but the film didn’t elaborate on what is considered his greatest legacy.
In 1936, Turing published On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, deemed the most influential document of the computer age. With this he laid the foundations for the modern computer, for software and for artificial intelligence. He defined the notion of a modern computer as a flexible, programmable universal machine; a machine that could compute anything that a human could, but faster.
Based on Turing’s theories, and using technology from wartime radar systems, between 1947 and 1949 a group of enterprising Australian scientists and engineers built this country’s first digital computer, the fourth built in the world. It is considered one of Australia’s foremost technological achievements.
Most surprising, however, is that this computer still survives. It is now the world’s only remaining intact first-generation computer and it is on display at the Melbourne Museum.
Named CSIRAC (pronounced sigh-rack), it was designed and built by Trevor Pearcey, Maston Beard and Geoff Hill at the CSIRO’s Radiophysics Laboratory in Sydney before it was moved to the University of Melbourne.
CSIRAC filled a room the size of a double garage and required enough electricity to power a suburban street. It might have been primitive compared to today’s computers but it