Computer 'love letters' revealed at MOSI in Manchester

Image caption,
Christopher Strachey and Alan Turing worked together on the Ferranti Mark I

A love letter writing programme which shows a fun side of early computer use is going on show at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Written by computer pioneer Christopher Strachey in 1951, it randomly chose romantic words for a message.

The programme ran on the world's first commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark I, at the University of Manchester.

MOSI's Cat Rushmore said it was "an example of a playful use of this pioneering machine".

Professor Strachey's programme fed words like affection, longing, passionate and feeling into the Mark I to be randomly chosen and slotted into a love letter template.

The letters were always signed 'M. U. C.', which stood for Manchester University Computer.

In addition to the love letters, Mr Strachey was also responsible for producing the first ever recorded computer music, when he programmed the Ferranti to play a medley of songs including God Save the King, Baa Baa Black Sheep and In the Mood.

Ms Rushmore, MOSI's science and technology curator, said that both examples of Professor Strachey's work demonstrated a humorous approach to exploring the computer's capabilities.

"Time on the computer was expensive, so it was mainly used for heavy duty mathematical calculations, but the love letter programme was a fun way to test the machine and demonstrated use of a random number generator developed by Alan Turing," she said.

The love letter programme has been resurrected as part of a year of celebrations in Manchester marking 60 years since the arrival of the first Ferranti Mark I in February 1951.

The Ferranti Mark I was developed by the Hollinwood-based electrical engineering firm as a commercial version of 'Baby', the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine, which was the world's first stored-program computer.

A replica of the computer can be seen at MOSI, where the love letter programme is available for visitors to the museum's newly-refurbished Revolution Gallery.

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