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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Alan Turing

b. June 23, 1912
d. June 7, 1954

Alan Turing led the British codebreaking team that broke the German Enigma Code, thereby shortening World War II, saving many lives, and helping the Allies to win the war. Turing is considered the father of computer science.

"I believe that at the end of the [20th] century . . . one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted."

Alan Turing was by nature skeptical and indifferent to conventional values. While often at odds with authority, he made remarkable connections between apparently unrelated areas of inquiry, including treating symbolic logic as a new area of applied mathematics.

As a fellow at King's College, Cambridge, Turing wrote "On Computable Numbers," his landmark paper published in 1936, which is considered the founding work of modern computer science. After completing doctoral work at Princeton University, Turing returned to Britain in 1938 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Turing potential ability as a code breaker had been identified at and he had been introduced to the secret operations at the Government Codes and Ciphers School in London. On September 4, 1939, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Turing reported to work at Bletchley Park, Britain's code breaking center.

At the conclusion of the war, Turing's ambition was to create a computer, but the classified status of his wartime work prevented him from realizing that dream. His contention that the computer could rival the computing power of the human brain correctly anticipated the field of Artificial Intelligence. In the postwar years, Turing competed as a distance runner, reaching near-Olympic times in the marathon. Asked why he engaged in such demanding training, Turing replied, " I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard." '

Alan Turing lived at a time when homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness and homosexual acts were illegal. Despite his critical wartime role, when his relationship with a Manchester man became public, he was charged with "gross indecency" and forced to accept hormone treatment with estrogen. He also lost his security clearance and was no longer able to work as a cryptographer.

Turing died in 1954 shortly before his 42nd birthday after eating a cyanide-laced apple. His death was ruled a suicide.


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