“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
Born: 23rd June 1912
Died: 7th June 1954
Occupation: Mathematician, crypt-analyst and computer scientist
Known for: The Turing test and breaking the Enigma cipher
Childhood and Education
Alan Turing was born in London to upper-middle class parents Julius Mathison Turing and Ethel Sara Turing. His father worked in Indian Civil Service, and for the most of his childhood, his parents were absent, travelling between India and England. He showed talent for science and mathematics from and early age, which was recognised by many of his teachers. In 1926 he started at Sherborne School. Unfortunately, his interest in science did not make him popular among the teachers in the place where more emphasis was put on classics. His headmaster described him as “the sort of boy who is bound to be a problem for any school or community”. After his time at Sherborne, Alan Turing studied at King’s College, Cambridge, where he gained first class undergraduate degree in mathematics. From 1936 to 1938 he studied at Princeton University, where he completed his PhD.
Alan Turing was the major figure in breaking of German ciphers during World War 2. Since 1938 he worked for the Government Code and Cypher School and tried to break the Enigma cipher used by Germany. In 1939, during a meeting at Warsaw, the Polish Cipher Bureau shared their knowledge on Enigma and their method for decrypting messages. Turing worked on those ideas and managed to improve them significantly and devised the Bombe – a machine for decoding messages enciphered using the Enigma cipher. This was the first of his achievements during the war. He also wrote 2 papers on mathematical approaches to cryptography, which proved very influential to the future development of the subject.
After the war Turing worked on designing the Automatic Computing Engine. The concept he presented in his paper is considered to be the first detailed design of a stored-program computer (sometimes also called von Neumann computer). Turing was also interested in the concept of artificial intelligence and proposed the test that was later called “the Turing test”. According to this test, a computer could be called intelligent if it could simulate a conversation well enough to fool the participant into believing they were actually having a conversation with a real person. No machine passed this test until 2014 – when a program called Eugene Goostman passed the test during an event held at University of Reading. Turing also made a contribution to the science of mathematical biology, publishing a few papers, the most notable of which was “The chemical basis of morphogenesis”.
Awards and Achievements
- Alan Turing’s work is believed to have shortened World War 2 by at least 2 years.
- Awarded Order of the British Empire for services to his country during the war.
- Considered father of Artificial Intelligence
- Turing was a talented long-distance runner.
- In 1952 he was charged with gross indecency for having a homosexual relationship and had to undergo chemical castration.
- He was considered eccentric among his coworkers.
- The cause of his death was cyanide poisoning and it is thought he committed suicide.
- Alan Turing: the Enigma by Andrew Hodges
- Alan Turing: life and legacy of a great thinker by Christof Teuscher