Alan Turing

A renowned British mathematician and logician, Alan Turing made major contributions to an unbelievable number of fields, including mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, biology, philosophy, cognitive science, computer science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. Born Alan Mathison Turing on June 23, 1912 in Paddington, London, Turing displayed signs of ingenuity from a young age. He attended the well known English public school, Sherborne School. Turing quickly developed an interest for math and science; while a few of his teachers recognized this young boy’s intelligence, they did not truly respect it. After graduating from Sherborne, Turing studied mathematics at King’s College, University of Cambridge from 1931 to 1934. After graduation, Turing was elected a fellow of Cambridge, and he wrote his dissertation over the central limit theorem. While at Cambridge, Turing formulated his concept for the Turing machine, a hypothetical device that helped form the foundation for the modern theory of computation and has helped computer scientists better understand the extents of mechanical computation. In 1936, he moved to America to earn his Ph.D in mathematical logic from Princeton University under the supervision of American mathematician and logician, Alonzo Church.

In 1938, after earning his Ph.D, Turing returned to England. He began working part time for the Government Code and Cypher School, a British code deciphering organization. When World War II broke out, Turing began working full time for the cryptanalytic organization at its headquarters in Bletchy Park.  He was a leading member of this department and made many major advances in the field of cryptanalysis during the war. One of his more significant contributions to the war effort was the invention of the Bombe, a machine that successfully decoded German messages and provided the Allies with information throughout the war. In recognition for his notable decoding work, Turing was named officer of the Order of the British Empire after the war.

With the end of the war, Turing moved to work at the National Physical Laboratory where he was recruited to design and construct an electronic computer. He formulated a design called Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). If construction of the design had been executed, Turing’s idea would have been the first general purpose digital computer. However, others at the NPL thought his design too complicated and opted for a simpler design of his original idea, causing them to lose the honor of building the first digital computer to the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory at the University of Manchester. Turing then performed pioneer work in the fields of artificial intelligence and artificial life. He is known as the founding father of modern cognitive science. He developed an idea known as the Turing Test which created intelligence composition standards for the computer industry.

Along with being a math and science genius, Turing was also an avid long distance runner. He ran sporadically throughout his life, but he began running more seriously when he worked for the National Physical Laboratory. He joined the Walton Athletic Club and represented them in running events. He placed fifth in the AAA marathon, a qualifying race for the 1948 Olympics. He stopped running due to a leg injury but would occasionally still run with the Walton Athletic Club. In 1952, Turing was arrested for homosexuality which was a crime in Britain during his time. He pleaded guilty to the charges and went through chemical castration. Because of his conviction, he lost security clearance to government code and computer work. He passed away on June 7, 1954 from cyanide poisoning. Some still debate whether his death was accidental or intentional. In the 21st century, years after his death, British prime minister Gordon Brown apologized for the unjust treatment Turing received and Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing formal pardon.



3 thoughts on “Alan Turing

  1. Wow! I wrote my blog about Archimedes, and I just realized, after reading your post, that the similarities between Archimedes and Turing are astounding. Turing is essentially a modern replica of Archimedes.They were both mathematical and scientific geniuses, and they both used this genius to help defend their respective countries. Turing helped the United Kingdom in WWII, as you point out, and Archimedes helped Syracuse whilst Sicily was invaded by the Romans. Also, Turing wrote his dissertation on the Central Limit Theorem, and Archimedes formalized the Archimedean Property, and both are fundamental results in mathematical analysis. And the list goes on!


  2. Pingback: Comments | Lizard Wizard

  3. Woah that is cool! Before researching Turing, I knew nothing about him, and had only heard about him once while reading The Shallows. He made many major contributions to his field though, as I’m sure, Archimedes did during his time. I wonder if they would have been friends had they been alive at the same time.


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