Who was Alan Turing?

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Alan Mathison Turing was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and former resident of Ennismore Avenue, Guildford. Alan Turing’s hard work had made him one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

Alan Turing made remarkable contributions in mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, philosophy, and mathematical biology. Also, he played his role in new areas later called computer science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. Therefore he is described as the Father of the Modern Computer.

He finally came into recognition in 1970 when his contribution to breaking the German Enigma encoder became public. However, he attempted suicide on 7 June 1954 because he was judicially persecuted for his homosexuality. After Alan’s suicide, his contributions to logic, mathematics, computing, artificial intelligence, and computational biology were better appreciated, and his reputation has grown widely.

Early Life

Alan Turing was born in an Indian colonial family in Paddington, London. Alan’s parents, Julius Mathison Turing – a member of the Indian civil service and Ethel Sara Stoney – daughter of Chief Engineer of the Madras Railways – were married in India.

Alan was sent to a top private school, Sherborne School in Dorset. There, John Halliley was his class fellow who later became famous as actor John Le Mesurier. On his own, Alan used to read Einstein’s papers on relativity and about quantum mechanics in Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World.

In the same school, he met Christopher Morcom in 1928, who became his first love. For the first time, Alan found someone with similar thoughts and interests in science and mathematics. Thus, both worked together on scientific ideas. In February 1930, Morcom died tragically, which was a shattering experience for Turing.

In 1931, Alan then entered the University of Cambridge to study mathematics. After Alan’s graduation in 1934, he was elected to a fellowship at Kings College Cambridge because of a research article on probability theory. Turing’s seminal paper “On Computable Numbers” in 1936 with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem was published on recommendation by Alonzo Church, American Mathematical Logician. This publication introduced the idea of “The Turing’s machine.” Turing’s machine could theoretically replace any other machine and thus had a profound significance for the emerging science of computing.

For Ph.D. Alan Turing moved to Princeton University in mathematical logic. He completed his Ph.D. under Church’s direction in 1938.

Code Breaker

Who was Alan Turing

The most iconic achievement of Turing was his contribution to the breaking of Enigma – a cipher machine used by the German Military to encrypt secret radio messages during World War II. 

In the summer of 1938, Alan joined the Government Code and Cypher School after returning from the US to his fellowship at King’s College, London. In September 1939, at the outbreak of war with Germany, Alan relocated to the organization’s wartime headquarters at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Who was Alan Turing

Turing’s device came into operation in the spring of 1940 at Bletchley Park. His very different, code-breaking machine was later named Turing Welchman Bombe. The Bombe – a series of electromechanically driven rotors, supplied large quantities of military intelligence for the rest of World War II.

Who was Alan Turing

In 1942, Turing devised another code device called “Tunny”- the first systematic method for breaking messages encrypted by the sophisticated German cipher machine.

After the war ended, Turing was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his magnificent contribution as a code breaker.

Marathon Man

Alan was a devoted athlete. He used to run in Guildford, Westcott, and Leith Hill. He was a frequent runner, with the habit of running at least 18 miles from his home in Hampton to Guildford, where his mother lived. 

He was an exceptional marathon runner. Turing represented the Walton Athletic Club in Olympics 1948 and came fifth in the trials.

Homosexuality and its Punishment

Although Alan was shy, he never hid his homosexuality from his friends. While at Bletchley Park, he got interested in a fellow code breaker, Joan Clark. Both got along very well, but Alan felt that this relation would be unlawful for both, hence broke off their engagement.

His private life came into conflict with society in March 1952 because of his short, tragic affair with a 19-year-old, Arnold Murray. Murray was reported to police by Turing as he was the partner in a burglary of Alan’s house. When Turing gave a full statement of his relationship with Murray for the filed case, both were prosecuted for homosexuality under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. 

As per Britain Law, he was then sentenced to 12 months of the chemical-hormonal therapy program. The treatment followed with its unpleasant side effects. The criminal record brought worries about his employment as he could no longer work for the British government’s postwar code-breaking center- Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Also, his entry into the USA was prohibited.

Last Years

Alan spent the end of his career at Manchester, where in May 1953, he was designated as a specially created readership in the theory of computing. After his hard work since 1951, he finally published “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” – containing the research based on the developmental forms and patterns in living organisms in 1952.  He used Manchester’s Ferranti Mark I computer to structure his hypothesized chemical model to generate anatomical descriptions in plants and animals.

Suicide

Who was Alan Turing

During his innovative work, Alan was found dead in his bed as a result of Cyanide poisoning. The official finding of his death was “suicide.” But another aspect of his death may be attributed to the “hormonal therapy” he got during his trials for being gay.

Judging by the records of investigations, no evidence showed Turing’s intent to take his own life, nor his mental health was disturbed. He was in the midst of ground-breaking work, and so the mental state appears to be unremarkable at the time.

Although suicide cannot be excluded, there is a great possibility that his death was a pure accident. He might accidentally inhale cyanide fumes during experimentation in his tiny laboratory adjoining his bedroom. 

Royal Apology

With more than 300,000 signatures, an appeal was made to the British government in August 2009 to apologize for Turing’s prosecution. As a result of which after a month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology on behalf of the British government and spoke publicly about Turing’s unfair treatment. He further said recognizing his contribution to the war, that this great scientist should have been treated well. After four years, on 24 December 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted a royal pardon for Turing’s conviction for gross indecency.

In 2021, the new Bank of England £50’s note had Turing’s face.

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