Alan Turing

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A statue of Alan Turing
A rebuild of a machine made by Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing OBE FRS (London, 23 June 1912 – Wilmslow, Cheshire, 7 June 1954) was an English mathematician and computer scientist, born in Maida Vale, London.[1]

Career[change | change source]

He was one of the people who worked on the first computers. He was the first person to think of using a computer to do things that were too hard for a person to do. He created the Turing machine in 1936. The machine was imaginary, but it included the idea of a program.

Turing was interested in artificial intelligence. He proposed the Turing test, to say when a machine could be called "intelligent". A computer could be said to "think" if a human interrogator could not tell it apart, through conversation, from a human being.[2]

During World War II, Turing worked to break German ciphers (secret messages). Using cryptanalysis he helped to break the Enigma machine. After that, he solved other German signals.

From 1945 to 1947 Turing worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the National Physical Laboratory. He presented a paper on 19 February 1946, which was the first detailed design of a stored-program computer.[3] Although ACE was a feasible design, the secrecy surrounding the wartime work at Bletchley Park led to delays in starting the project and he became disillusioned. In late 1947 he returned to Cambridge for a sabbatical year. While he was at Cambridge, the Pilot ACE was built in his absence. It executed its first program on 10 May 1950.

Private life[change | change source]

Turing was a gay man. In 1952, Turing admitted having had sex with a man in England. At that time, it was a crime to take part in homosexual acts. He was convicted and forced to make a choice. He could choose between going to jail or take hormones like oestrogen to lower his sex drive. He decided to take the hormones.[4] After his punishment, he became impotent and could not get an erection. He also grew breasts.[5]

In May 2012, a private member's bill was put before the House of Lords to grant Turing a statutory pardon.[6] In July 2013 it gained government support[7] and the royal prerogative of mercy was granted on 24 December 2013.[8][9]

Death[change | change source]

In 1954, after suffering for two years, he died either after eating an apple which was poisoned with cyanide, or by drinking the cyanide in water. The reason for the confusion is that the police never tested the apple for cyanide.[10]

The treatment forced on him is now believed to be very wrong, going against medical ethics and international laws of human rights. In August 2009, a petition asking the British Government to apologise to Turing for punishing him for being a homosexual was started.[11][12] The petition received thousands of signatures.[13] Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged the petition, and called Turing's treatment "appalling":[14]

References[change | change source]

  1. Newman M.H.A. 1955. Alan Mathison Turing. 1912–1954. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1: 253. [1]
  2. Harnad, Stevan 2008. The Annotation game: Turing (1950) on Computing, machinery and intelligence. In: Epstein, Robert & Peters, Grace (eds) Parsing the Turing Test: philosophical and methodological issues in the quest for the thinking computer. Springer
  3. Copeland, B. Jack 2006. Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers. Oxford University Press. p108 ISBN 978-0-19-284055-4
  4. Turing, Alan (1952). "Letters of Note: Yours in distress, Alan". Archived from the original on December 16, 2012.
  5. Andrew Hodges (2012). Alan Turing: The Enigma The Centenary Edition. Princeton University.
  6. "Parliamentary bill launched for Alan Turing pardon". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  7. Nicholas Watt (19 July 2013). "Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing to be given posthumous pardon". The Guardian.
  8. "Alan Turing gets his royal pardon for 'gross indecency' – 61 years after he poisoned himself". The Independent. 23 December 2013.
  9. "(Archived copy of) Royal Pardon for Alan Turing".
  10. Hodges, Andrew 1983. Alan Turing: the enigma. London: Burnett Books, p488. ISBN 0-04-510060-8
  11. Thousands call for Turing apology. BBC News. 31 August 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  12. Petition seeks apology for Enigma code-breaker Turing. CNN. 01 September 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
  13. The petition was only open to UK citizens.
  14. "PM's apology to codebreaker Alan Turing: we were inhumane". The Guardian. 11 September 2009.

Other websites[change | change source]

  • Jack Copeland 2012. Alan Turing: The codebreaker who saved 'millions of lives'. BBC News / Technology [2]