Home > Biography > Am I Turing you on?

Am I Turing you on?

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) is someone that I only found out about a week ago, but he’s definitely someone that everyone should be familiar with.  He was key in the founding of computer sciences, wrote papers regarding artificial intelligence, and helped design the first computing machine. He also was key in Britain figuring out the German Enigma machine.  Finally, his life is notable for the way the British government persecuted him for his homosexuality.

450px-Alan_Turing_Memorial_Closer

The Alan Turing memorial statue in Sackville Park. Turing is seen holding an apple, a reference to the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Isaac Newton, forbidden love, and the instrument of Turing's death.

Although the Turing machine was theoretical, it was the basis for the modern computer.

During World War II, Turing started working at Bletchley Park breaking German codes. He was key in breaking the German Enigma code. He designed a machined, called the bombe, which searched for possibly correct settings of an enigma message. The enigma had a possible 1019 states, which made it impossible to figure out without computing help. The bombe would implement a possible solution to the code and search for contradictions, if a contradiction was rooted out, the solution would be discarded and the machined would search for another possible solution. Even by doing this, one bombe was not fast enough to figure out the enigma code, and by the end of the ware there were over 200 bombe machines in operation.

In 1952 Turing was arrested for gross indecency after admitting to having a homosexual relationship with a Manchester man. Turing was given the choice between hard labor and chemical castration. He chose castration and was given hormone injections.

Following his prosecution, Turing was barred from continuing his cryptographic work for the government and his security clearance was barred. Two years later, on June 7th 1954, Turing was found dead in his home, a victim of cyanide poisoning. There was a half-eaten apple next to his bed, which is thought to be the method of administration for the poison, though the apple was never tested for the presence of cyanide. While his death was ruled a suicide, numerous other theories exist. One theory is that Turing’s death was accidental due to mishandling of poisonous chemicals during his experiments. Another theory is that he was assassinated.

In September 2009, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, acknowledged a petition started earlier in the year, apologized for Turing’s persecution and treatment, describing it as “appalling”.

To learn more about Turing you can visit these sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_turing

http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/

http://www.alanturing.net/

(Image taken from wikipedia using the GFDL under wikimedia commons)

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