Alan M. Turing (1912 – 1954)

Alan M. Turing was born on the 22nd June 1912; he was a British mathematician, inventor of the Turing Machine and proposed the Turing Test, a test which determines if a computer is capable of human like thought. While his father was in Madras working in the Indian Civil service, Turing was winning school prizes and a scholarship which took him to King’s college Cambridge as a student and later as a fellow. In 1931 the Czech mathematician Kurt Gödel astonished the scientific world with the discovery that there were mathematical theorems that were true but yet could never be proven. Alan Turing set out to investigate those which could be proved. He graduated at Princeton University in 1938 and while at Princeton, Turing Published “On Computable Numbers”, a paper in which he conceived an abstract machine, now called a Turing Machine. The machine he proposed could carry out mechanically the process usually performed by a mathematician such as addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and so forth. Later during investigating the workings of these imaginary machines he made a remarkable conclusion, that rather than multiple machines, only one machine a universal device that could imitate any other of the specialist machines by being “programmed”.

The Bombe Machine which was used During WWII in deciphering the Enigma Code.

The Pilot ACE Machine under test

After Princeton he returned back to England and during World War II he worked in the British foreign Office at Bletchley Park, and was one of the key persons in cracking the Nazis “Enigma” code during the war. He and his team designed a machine codenamed Bombe, which helped the British to decode the Enigma code. Had it not been for the War his machines might have remained imaginary. In the middle of the war Turing was sent to America to establish secure codes for transatlantic communications between the Allies. The secret nature of his new involvements during the war meant that few records of his movements are available. However it is widely supposed that he met Von Neumann while at Princeton, New Jersey. In 1945 he returned back to England and was asked to build a machine. The machine was codenamed ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) which took a long time to be constructed but was far more advanced than the ENIAC. Frustrated by the slow progress he left and moved to Manchester where he joined the University’s computer project, and at the same time he became consultant to the Ferranti Company which eventually was directly involved in the first computers to be build in Britain.

Turing was an eccentric who pursued what he knew to be important without regard for social conventions or legal constrains. In 1952 he was convicted by the British government on charges related to homosexuality which at that time was illegal and was forced on a cure. He was so depressed by this that two years later he committed suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is also consistent with accidental poisoning. In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” and Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.