Category: Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing, born on June 23, 1912, in London and died on June 7, 1954, in Wilmslow, Cheshire, stands as one of the most influential figures in computer science, artificial intelligence, and mathematics.

His work during World War II and his foundational contributions to the nascent field of computing have cemented his place in history.

Childhood and Early Education

Alan Turing displayed signs of genius from an early age. Attending the Sherborne School, he demonstrated remarkable aptitude in mathematics and science. As a child, he was often curious, even going so far as to teach himself ancient Greek to read Plato in the original language.

University and the Turing Machine

Turing attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he obtained a first-class honors degree in mathematics. In 1936, he presented a paper, “On Computable Numbers,” introducing the concept of a ‘universal machine’ that could decode any mathematical problem or logical function. This theoretical machine, later named the Turing machine, is still a central object of study in theoretical computer science.

World War II and Enigma

With the outbreak of World War II, Turing joined the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking center. Here, he made his most visible mark on history. Turing played a pivotal role in breaking the Enigma code used by the German military. He designed the bombe, a mechanical device used to determine the daily settings of the Enigma machine. The successful decoding of Enigma is said to have shortened the war by several years, saving countless lives.

ACE and the Development of Computers

After the war, Turing moved to the National Physical Laboratory and proposed the development of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). His ACE report (1946) is among the foundational documents in the history of computer design. Though the ACE was not built as Turing had envisioned, his designs were influential in later computers.

Manchester and Artificial Intelligence

In 1948, Turing joined the University of Manchester, working on the Manchester Mark I, one of the earliest stored-program computers. At Manchester, Turing began focusing on what we now call artificial intelligence (AI).

He proposed the ‘Turing Test’ as a measure of machine intelligence: if a machine could engage in a conversation indistinguishably from a human, it could be considered ‘intelligent.’

Biology and Morphogenesis

Turing’s insatiable curiosity led him to delve into biology. He was particularly intrigued by the mathematical aspects of morphogenesis – the process that enables organisms to develop their shapes.

His 1952 paper on the subject provided a theoretical framework for the chemical basis of morphogenesis, predicting oscillating chemical reactions, which were observed experimentally years later.

Personal Life and Prosecution: Alan Turing was a homosexual man at a time when homosexual acts were criminal offenses in the UK. In 1952, after a burglary in his home revealed his relationship with another man, Turing was arrested and charged with ‘gross indecency.’ Instead of prison, Turing chose to undergo chemical castration, a series of estrogen injections, as an alternative to incarceration. This traumatic period significantly impacted his personal and professional life.

Death and Legacy

On June 7, 1954, Turing was found dead at his home, with a half-eaten apple by his bedside. The cause of death was determined to be cyanide poisoning. While it’s widely believed that Turing died by suicide, there’s been some speculation about the circumstances of his death. The apple itself was never tested for cyanide, leading to various theories, though many accept the narrative of suicide given the challenges Turing faced in his final years.

Turing’s untimely death robbed the world of many potential contributions. Yet, his legacy is immense. He’s often dubbed the ‘father of modern computing’ and is considered a war hero for his codebreaking work. His ideas form the bedrock of both theoretical and practical aspects of computing.

Posthumous Recognition and Pardon

In the decades following his death, Turing received numerous posthumous honors. The ‘Turing Award,’ considered the “Nobel Prize of Computing,” is named in his honor. In 2009, then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologized for Turing’s treatment, describing it as “appalling.” Finally, in 2013, Turing received a royal pardon, rectifying the grave injustice done to one of Britain’s brightest minds.

In 2019, the Bank of England announced that Turing would be the face of the new £50 note, ensuring that his contributions will be remembered for generations to come.