Born on 23rd June 1912 in Maida Vale, London, to parents Julius Mathison Turing and Ethel Sara Turing, Alan Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Turing got his early education from St Michael’s, a day school at 20 Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea.
He transferred to Hazelhurst Preparatory School, an independent school in Frant’s Sussex village (now East Sussex). In 1926, at the age of 13, he went on to Sherborne School, a boarding school in the market town of Sherborne in Dorset. Here he boarded at Westcott House.
Turing attended King’s College, Cambridge, from 1931 to 1934, where he was awarded first-class honours in mathematics. In 1935, at the age of 22, he was elected a Fellow of King’s College on the strength of a dissertation in which he proved the Central Limit Theorem. It is a theory widely used in census and population statistics.
Turing’s genius in the field of cryptanalysis paved the way for a successful career. In late 1938, Turing started working with the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). It was a British code-breaking organisation. He concentrated on cryptanalysis of the Enigma cypher machine used by Nazi Germany.
During the Second World War, Turing was a team member responsible for breaking German cyphers (Enigma) at Bletchley Park. It was the wartime station of GC&CS (Government Code and Cypher School). The historian and wartime codebreaker Asa Briggs praised Alan Turing’s exceptional genius in breaking the code.
The Enigma was an enciphering machine used by the German forces in the Second World War to send secret messages which any third party interceptors could not understand. Some Polish mathematicians were successful in reading the code, but much to their dismay, the Germans would change the encrypting key every day to keep the messages secure, making the task even more daunting.
To assist this problem, Turing invented Bombe, which helped reduce the workload on the code breakers. This, in turn, helped them to understand the German Air force signals, and intelligence gathered from the interceptions helped the Allies.
Turing also headed the ‘Hut 8’ team at Bletchley Park and helped decrypt more complex German cyphers, being used by the German Navy to impose heavy losses to the Allied ships using German U-boats. With Turing’s genius by their side, the members of Hut 8 were again successful and created a method Turing called ‘Banburismus’ to intercept and read the German messages.
This was a major feat for Alan Turing and his team as it helped the Allies during the famous Battle of the Atlantic. Turing travelled to the United States in December 1942 to advise the US military intelligence on the usage of Bombe machines that he created at Bletchley Park.
He saw there a top-secret speech enciphering system being developed by the Americans. Later in the war, after returning to Bletchley Park in 1943 from the US, Turing created a speech scrambling machine called ‘Delilah’. In 1945 Turing was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his efforts.
After the war ended, Turing continued his work on a previous invention of his, the hypothetical computing machine called ‘the Universal Turing machine’, which he created in 1936. Turing continued working on his machine and simultaneously worked for the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).
Turing published a design for the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine), which was the forerunner to the modern computer. The project was rejected, so Turing left the NPL. In 1950 Alan Turing created the Turing test, originally called the ‘imitation game’, to test a machine’s ability to demonstrate human intelligence.
If a machine can engage in a conversation with a human without being detected as a machine, it has demonstrated human intelligence. Since Turing first introduced his test, it has proven to be both highly influential and widely criticised, and it has become an important concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence.
In 1952, Alan Turing was arrested for homosexuality – which was then illegal in Britain. He was found guilty of ‘gross indecency’ (which was overturned in 2013 followed by a public apology from the British Government) but avoided the criminal sentence by accepting chemical castration. On 8 June 1954, Turing’s housekeeper found him dead at the age of 41. He had died the previous day due to cyanide poisoning.
During the Second World War, Alan Turing’s remarkable work was kept secret and revealed until the 1990s when the world finally came to know about the work he and his team did at Bletchley Park. Some experts say that Turing and his team’s work might have shortened war by several years, but what’s known is that they helped turn the tide into the Allies favour and saved countless people from their demise.
Written by, The Hub Daily’s Writer
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