Alan Turing was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist. He is known to have played a key role in the development of computer science. He is considered the “Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.” During the Second World War he worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park and helped break German ciphers.
Alan Turing was born on 23 June, 1912, in London. His father was part of the Indian Civil Service and traveled frequently between Hasting and India during Turing’s childhood. As a result, he and his brother were left in the care of relatives until their father’s retirement in 1926. Turing displayed signs of genius since his youth. At 13, he was enrolled at Sherborne School where he quickly became enamored with mathematics and science, to the displeasure of his teachers who were more inclined towards classics.
After finishing Sherborne, Turing studied as an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge. He gained first-class honours in mathematics and at only 22 was elected fellow at King’s College. It was there that he proved that automatic computation cannot solve all mathematical problems. This concept is known as the Turing machine and is the basis for the modern theory of computation.
After studying for two years at Princeton University in America, he returned to England in 1938 and started working in secret for the British cryptanalytic department, the Government Code and Cypher School ( GCCS ). In the beginning he worked only part-time, but when the war broke out he started working full-time at the headquarters, Bletchley Park.
He played a vital role in deciphering messaged encrypted with the German Enigma machine. Winston Churchill declared that Alan Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. His ability to crack coded messages helped the Allies in many crucial battles.
After the war, Alan Turing wished to turn his attention towards creating a machine that would be able to logically process information. Unfortunately, his plans were dismissed by his colleagues.
In 1952, Alan Turing was arrested and tried for homosexuality which was then a criminal offense. His security clearance was removed and he was no longer able to work with cryptography at GCCS. Moreover, he was faced with a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He chose the latter. Turing died in June 7, 1954. Autopsy determined the cause of death as cyanide poisoning and it was declared that he had committed suicide.
Did you know that in 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement in which he issued a posthumously apology to Alan Turing for having been prosecuted?
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