Computer Scientist, Mathematician (1912-1954)
Turing pondered how a human follow a specific and step-by-step method or pathway to perform a certain task. Later in 1936, Turing published a seminal paper that is now widely acknowledged as the foundation of computer science. In this paper he introduces the idea of a ‘Universal Machine’ that could decode and perform any set of instructions—the computers. In the next ten years he would turn this revolutionary idea into a practical plan for an electronic computer, capable of running any program all the while becoming a hero of war.
In the affluent residential district of Maida Vale, London, English scientist Alan Mathison Turing was born on the warm summer of June 23, 1912. Even as a young boy, he already manifested signs of high intelligence, which some of his teachers acknowledged, but didn't necessarily respect. During Turing's education in the well-known independent Sherborne School at the age of 13, he became particularly interested in math and science.
After Sherborne, Turing enrolled at King's College later called University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, pursuing his studies there from 1931 to 1934. In his dissertation, he proved the so called "central limit theorem", an indispensable theorem associated to statistics , which later gave him enough credit to be elected as a fellow at the school upon his graduation.
In 1936, Turing published a paper, "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem," in which he introduced the idea of a universal machine (later called the “Universal Turing Machine," and then the "Turing machine") capable of computing anything computable. This paper is then widely acknowledged as the the origin of the conception of the idea of modern computers.
For the next two years, Turing studied cryptology and mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. After he had received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1938, he returned to Cambridge, and then took a part-time position with the Government Code and Cypher School, a British organization specializing in code-breaking.
Cryptanalysis and Early Computers
Throughout World War II, Turing was a forefront contributor in the field of wartime code-breaking, specifically that of German ciphers. He worked in the GCCS wartime station at the Bletchley Park, where he made five major advances in the field of cryptanalysis, the most noble is the creation of the bombe. The Bombe machine was developed during the early stages of World War II and was vital to deciphering the German communications and information encoded by the Enigma machine. This able the Allied Forces to speed up the rate at which intercepted messages were decoded and allowing them to develop countermeasures within hours and not weeks.
Turing's numerous contributions to the field of code-breaking didn’t stop there. He then wrote two papers dealing about with the mathematical approaches of code-breaking which became very important assets to the Code and Cypher School, later known as Government Communications Headquarter, that the paper remained confidential and the GCH waited until April 2012 to release them to the National Archives of the United Kingdom.
Turing transferred to London in the mid-1940s, and started working for the National Physical Laboratory. Among his contributions during his work at the facility were the design work for the Automatic Computing Engine which eventually created a groundbreaking blueprint for store-program computers. Though a working version of the ACE was never realized, the idea has been used as a model for tech developments worldwide for several years. From the design of the English Electric DEUCE and the American Bandix G-15 which is considered as the world's first personal computer were influenced by Turing's work.
In the late 1940s at the University of Manchester,
Turing continue to wield high-level positions in the mathematics department as well as the computing laboratory. During his reign in the university, he tackled the issue of artificial intelligence in his 1950 paper, "Computing machinery and intelligence," and formulate an experiment later known as the “Turing Test”— a thought experiment designed set standards to what artificial intelligence must be. Over the next decades since it proposal, the test has greatly influenced debates over artificial intelligence.
Homosexuality, Conviction and Death
Homosexuality was still illegal in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s. So when Turing admitted to police that he had had a sexual relationship with the perpetrator in a break-in, 19-year-old Arnold Murray, he was arrested and charged with gross indecency. Following his arrest, Turing was forced to choose between temporary probation on the condition that he receive hormonal treatment for libido reduction, or imprisonment. He chose the former, and soon underwent chemical castration through injections of a synthetic estrogen hormone for a year, which eventually rendered him impotent.
As a result of his conviction, Turing's security clearance was removed and he was barred from continuing his work with cryptography at the GCCS, which had become the GCHQ in 1946.
Turing died on June 7, 1954. Following a postmortem exam, it was determined that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. The remains of an apple were found next to the body, though no apple parts were found in his stomach. The autopsy reported that "four ounces of fluid which smelled strongly of bitter almonds, as does a solution of cyanide" was found in the stomach. Trace smell of bitter almonds was also reported in vital organs. The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was asphyxia due to cyanide poisoning and ruled a suicide.
In a June 2012 BBC article, philosophy professor and Turing expert Jack Copeland argued that Turing's death may have been an accident: The apple was never tested for cyanide, nothing in the accounts of Turing's last days suggested he was suicidal and Turing had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he conducted in his spare room.
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