Birmingham student wins computing prize

A Birmingham University student has won an award for proving a hypothesis that could one day lead to practical molecular computing.

Alex Smith, an engineering student from Birmingham’s School of Electronic and Computer Engineering, won the $25,000 Wolfram 2,3 Turing Machine Research Prize.

The Wolfram 2,3 Turing Machine Research Prize was established In May 2007 to be awarded to the first person or group to prove either that Wolfram’s Turing machine is universal, or that it is not.

In the course of a 50-page proof document, Alex Smith was able to demonstrate that Wolfram’s Turing machine is, in fact, universal.

This result ends a half-century quest to find the simplest universal Turing machine. It demonstrates that a remarkably simple system can perform any computation that can be done by any computer.

‘I had no idea how long it would take for the prize to be won’, said Stephen Wolfram, a physicist and co-founder of computing research company Wolfram Research. ‘It could have taken a year, a decade, or a century. I’m thrilled it was so quick. It’s an impressive piece of work.’

The immediate implications of the result are primarily scientific, but potential future implications include the possibility of using Wolfram’s 2,3 Turing machine to construct a computer operating at a molecular scale.

‘I saw the prize problem primarily as a puzzle’, said Alex Smith. ‘At first, I didn’t think the Turing machine would be universal. But then I found a way to show that it is.’

An official prize ceremony will be held at the Bletchley Park site of Alan Turing’s wartime work.