Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing was born on June 23, 1912 in Paddington, London. A brilliant mathematician and code breaker, his work was a great contribution to the technology we use today and will continue to use in our future advances. Alan Turing led many discoveries in the area of computer science and artificial life. He died just before reaching his 42nd birthday due to an apparent suicide. Although he left the world far too soon, his courageous genius will surely be experienced by all for years to come.

Education and Early Accomplishments

alan-turing.jpg Alan Turing’s childhood was rooted in England, while both of his parents lived in India. Turing’s father worked for the Indian Civil Service. Showing early signs of acute intellect, Alan taught himself to read within only a few weeks. He ran into trouble during his education in various public schools where he frequently disagreed with his teachers and administrators. He was outspoken and temperamental, which often made him stand out and eventually cast as a problem child in school. Alan was not interested in much outside of his fascination with science and had trouble devoting time to any other areas of study. He became obsessed with the works of Albert Einstein and even continued many of the Einsteins’ conclusions on his own.

Alan was just fourteen years old when his father retired in 1926. Alan and his brother lived with various friends and family members in England instead of living in India with their parents. This decision was made for the sake of their health and social upbringing. Although Alan’s father expected that his son would become a well adjusted member of England’s middle class, it was obvious that his eccentric personality and genius intellect would make him anything but “normal.”

At the passionate age of 16, Alan became very close friends with a young boy named Christopher Morcum, who was new in his class. They spent much of their time discussing mathematical theories and often were seen passing notes back in forth during class. During this time, Alan was invited to Christopher’s home to meet his mother, an artist. The boys soon became inseparable and appeared to be more than just friends.

He eventually studied mathematics at Cambridge University which led him to begin his work in quantum mechanics. While at Cambridge, he discovered the evidence that automatic computation cannot solve all mathematical problems. This theory was called the Turing Machine and is the basis for which all modern computation was founded. During his time at Cambridge, he eventually began a career in teaching mathematics, which was a natural transition for him.

In Love and Loss

It was in 1930 that Christopher Morcum became very ill with bovine tuberculosis, which he contracted some years ago from drinking contaminated milk. Of course, Alan was extremely distraught by the death of his close friend. According to Mrs. Morcum, Alan became obsessed with the loss of Christopher and wanted to understand more relating to the subject of consciousness and the afterlife. Now more focused than ever, Alan began to follow his passion and immersed himself in his work even deeper; studying the subjects of philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology, and mathematical logic. This led him to eventually thinking of the mind as an intelligent “machine.”

In 1931, he received his undergraduate degree from King’s College in Cambridge, he began to explore his work more freely. At the same time, Alan started to further embrace his identity as a homosexual. He also associated with the anti-war movement in 1933, but did not embrace Marxism, as his new friend and lover James Atkins did. It was the liberal-left economists that he more closely agreed with; such as J.M. Keynes and A.C. Pigou. He also took to nature and various outdoor sports; enjoying activities such as rowing, running and sailing.

World War II Efforts

In 1936, shortly after the concept of the Turing Machine was accepted, Alan moved to the United States and attended Princeton University. It was just two years later, in 1938 that he began working for the British cryptanalytic department, the Government Code, and Cypher School on a part-time basis. This position was in secret and once the war erupted, he accepted a full-time position with the department in Bletchley Park.

His main duty was in de-coding messages from the German. Alan became known within the department as a vital role in the decryption and collection of vital messages for the British. After the war ended, Turing spent all of his time developing what would later be known as the first digital computer design. His development was not accepted by his colleagues, and so he moved on to Manchester University where he would create the form for the basis for the field of artificial intelligence. It was in 1951 that he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Arrest and Peculiar Death

In 1952, Alan Turing was arrested for homosexuality, which was considered to be a lewd and punishable act at that time in Britain. He was given the option of imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose castration and began taking estrogen injections ordered by the government. He also lost his position at Bletchley. During that time, homosexuals were considered a high risk for blackmail.

It was on June 7, 1954, just sixteen days before his 42nd birthday, that Alan Turing died of cyanide. He had bitten into an apple that was poisoned with the lethal chemical. His mother and many of his close friends believe his death to be accidental since Alan ate an apple daily and was always experimenting with chemicals that may have mistakenly tainted the apple. Others claim that he was obsessed with the witch’s character in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and this is why he at apples daily and perhaps even poisoned himself. The world may never know exactly what happened to Alan Turing.

Impact Still Felt Today

Today, some suggest that the apple logo for the Apple Computer is a homage to Alan Turing. When Steve Jobs was asked about this by Stephen Fry, he replied, “God, we wish it were.”

More recently, on Christmas Eve 2013, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned Alan Turing. An excerpt from “Now Know Ye,” states, “that We, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented unto Us, are Graciously pleased to extend Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions.”

Through the years there have been countless inventions and theories that are related to the works of the late Alan Turing. The story of both his life and death can only be summed up by the words of Alan Turing himself, which are, “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”


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