Alan Mathison Turing, mathematician, code breaker, and inventor of the computer, was born in London one hundred years ago today, June 23, 2012. But what do we know about this person who might rightfully be described as ‘The key figure of our century’? Perhaps too little.
During his relatively brief life, Turing made a unique impact on the history of computing, computer science, artificial intelligence, developmental biology, and the mathematical theory of computability.
His interest in code and ciphers started as a boy. Once while in school he was given the book ‘Mathematical Recreations and Essays’ which had a chapter on cryptography which he found fascinating. Another book which exited and focused his intellectual curiosity as a boy had one chapter about the nature of the mind entitled ‘Where we do our thinking’ which captivated Turing for most of his life.
At 15, he read for his mother a short account of Einstein’s ideas, making his own observations. And at 16 he fell in love with fellow pupil Christopher Morcom, who shared his passion for science. It was hopeless unrequited love. This friendship, cut short by Morcom’s death in February 1930 from complications of tuberculosis.
Alan Turing wanted to believe that Christopher’s mind somehow could survived and he meant it as a scientific plausibility, not a religious belief. This obsession might have been behind his conceptualizing of the Turing machine.
Thanks to Turing’s work deciphering the German Enigma Code, the British Navy was able to counteract the powerful German maritime war effort.
Turing was arrested under the same law that was used to convict Oscar Wilde in 1895. He was convicted of gross indecency following a relationship with another man and underwent hormonal treatment (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison.
Well I’m not going to get all pseudo philosophical with you guys this time. I just wish really bad I was as brilliant as lovely Alan. We posted two other previous articles about Turing that you can read here:
OK, now I invite you to watch the following documentary about his life: