Alan Mathison Turing, English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist, born on June 23, 1912, in Maida Vale, London is a code-breaking war hero and the father of computer science as well as AI. However, he is also known as one of Britain's most famous victims of Homophobia. Between 1885-1967 approximately 49000 homosexual men were convicted of gross indecency under British law.
(© National Portrait Gallery)
He attended Sherborne School at the age of 13, displaying signs of high intelligence and interest particularly in mathematics and science. Later, he enrolled in King's College, the University of Cambridge from 1931 to 1934. During his years in Cambridge, he proved the central limit theorem and thus was elected a fellow at the school upon graduation.
Turing's paper in 1936 on "Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem," where he presented the idea of a universal machine (Turing machine), capable of computing anything that is computable. The Turing machine is now considered a precursor to modern computers. Eventually, he studied mathematics and cryptology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Upon receiving his Ph.D. in 1938, he returned to Cambridge and began working part-time with the British Government Government Code and Cypher School.
Turing's had a leading role in breaking Nazi ciphers during WWII, known as Enigma. German U-boats were inflicting high damage to the Allied shipping and thus the need to understand their signals was essential. Using captured Enigma messages, Turing as the head of the HUT 8 team at Bletchley, used his technique Banbarismus to decipher messages from 1941.
(© IWM (COM 921))
Polish mathematicians had solved Enigma messages and the British were aware, but the Germans increased the security by changing the cipher system daily, which made the task of deciphering the code very difficult. Turing had the main role in this, and along with Gordon Welchman invented the machine, called "Bombe". The machine highly reduced the world of the code-breakers and from mid-1940 onwards, German Air Force signals were readable by Bletchley. As a conclusion, the Allies were guided away from the Germans U-boats.
By July 1941, Turing had developed a complex code-breaking technique he called "Turingery", which was used by others at Bletchley as well to understand the Lorenz cipher machine. Germans used Lorenz enciphered strategic messages and thus the Allies benefited from understanding them. In December 1942, Turing traveled to the United States to recommend the use of Bombe machines and share his knowledge of Enigma with US military intelligence. It was in the US that he saw the top-secret speech enciphering system and later in the was developed a speech scrambling system he named "Delilah".
Historians estimate that the breaking of Enigma shortened the war by more than two years saving over 14 million lives. However, it remained a government-held secret for more than 50 years. All Turing's wartime work led to him getting awarded an OBE in 1945.
In the mid-1940s, Turing worked for the British National Physical Laboratory, where he led the designed the blueprint for store-program computers. Although a complete version of the ACE was never built, it was used as a model to design many including English Electric DEUCE and American Bendix G-15, which are considered by many the world's first personal computers.
Later, he held a high ranking position in the mathematics department and later the computing laboratory at the University of Manchester where he addressed the issue with AI in his paper in 1950 "Computing machinery and intelligence,". In the paper, he proposed the "Turing test" in order to create an intelligence design standard for the tech industry, which has influenced debated over AI to this day.
In the early 1950s in the united kingdom, homosexuality was illegal, and thus when Turing admitted to police that was called to his house after a break-in, in January 1952 that he had a sexual relationship with the 19-year-old perpetrator, Arnold Murray, he was charged with gross indecency. He had a choice to either be under temporary probation on the condition that he receive hormonal treatment for libido reduction or to go to prison. Turing chose temporary probation and soon thereafter went through chemical castration with injections of a synthetic estrogen hormone for a year which led to him becoming impotent. Also, he was barred from continuing to work with cryptography at the GCCS, later known as GCHQ by 1946.
After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing died on June 7th, 1954, at the age of 41. The postmortem exam results indicated the cause of death being cyanide poisoning and the remains of the apple were found next to his body at the scene. However, no apple parts were found in the stomach. Four ounces of strong bitter almond smelling fluid, which is the smell of cyanide, was found in the stomach and in vital organs. The cause of death of thereafter concluded to be asphyxia due to cyanide poisoning and ruled a suicide.
However, a philosophy professor and Turing expert, Jack Copeland argued that Turing's death could have been an accident, considering the apple was never tested for cyanide, and Turing's last days showed nothing that could suggest him being suicidal. Turing also had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he performed in his spare room.
A few of many other Awards in Turing's honor
In 1991, The Time Maganize names him of the "100 Most Important People of the 20th century," saying, "The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine."
By 2002, he was ranked 21st on the BBC nationwide poll of the "100 Greatest Britons".
Turing was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his work on his 86th birthday. In June 2007, a life-size statue of him was built at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England. Princeton University Alumni Weekly named him the second most significant alumnus right after James Madison.
John Graham-Cumming's petition led to Prime Minister Gordon Brown releasing a statement on September 10, 2009, on behalf of the British government, apologizing for prosecuting Turing as a homosexual.
"This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue. But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind," Brown stated. "It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present. So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."
This followed up with Queen Elizabeth II granting Turing a posthumous royal pardon, honoring his unprecedented achievements, in 2013.
By October 20, 2016, the British government had announced "Turing's law", to pardon all gay and bisexual men who were victims of homophobia.
After a list of candidates nominated by the general public, including Stephen Hawking and Ada Lovelace, in July 2019, the Bank of England announced that Turing would appear of United Kingdom's £50 note along with images of his world.