Childhood & Early Life
Alan Mathison Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in Paddington, London, to Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara. Julius was employed with the 'Indian Civil Service.' Alan had a brother named John.
He pursued his elementary education from 'St Michael's,' later studying at 'Sherborne School' in Dorset, starting from 1926.
In 1931, he began attending 'King's College' at the 'University of Cambridge,' graduating in mathematics three years later with top scores.
He began pursuing a fellowship from 'King's College' in 1935, during which he published the paper, ‘On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.’
It was in this paper that he drew references from Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel's research to develop simple imaginary devices, which came to be known as 'Turing machines.'
According to his hypothesis, such a machine is capable of calculating anything that can be quantified. The modern computer came into existence because of this assumption made by the young Turing.
During 1936-38, he was taught at the 'Princeton University,' by famous American logician, Alonzo Church. Along with lessons in mathematics, Alan was also taught cryptology. Towards the end of this period, he was able to get his PhD from the university. After this, he was also taught by Ludwig Wittgenstein at the 'University of Cambridge.'
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In September 1938, Turing took up a part-time job at the 'Government Code and Cypher School' (GC&CS), an organization that specialized in breaking war codes. The 'GC&CS' was located at Bletchley Park during the ‘World War II,’ and it was here that Alan was accompanied by fellow code-breaker, Dilly Knox.
The young mathematician was appointed to break the codes sent by German officials during ‘World War II.’ The codes were sent through the radio machine, 'Enigma.' In 1939, the 'Polish Cipher Bureau' had shared with the 'GC&CS' their method of breaking the codes.
Knox and Alan tried to break down the complex Polish techniques into a simpler and more workable method. The indicators referred to by the Polish were not too reliable and could’ve been altered by the Germans at any given time. Thus, Turing tried using the decoding methods, and developed a device called the 'bombe.'
In December 1939, he developed a decrypting technique, using statistical analysis, and called it the 'Banburismus.' The 'Banburismus' had the potential to decipher the 'Enigma' codes, which were more complex than those used by other warring countries.
The first ‘bombe’ began functioning in Bletchley Park on March 18, 1940, and it was built to electrically arrive at logical conclusions about what the ‘Enigma’ indicators meant.
By the following year, Turing and his colleagues, Hugh Alexander, Gordon Welchman, and Stuart Milner-Barry, were getting agitated with their slow progress. They needed more people and funding, and sought Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s help. Churchill obliged to the urgency shown, and soon there were over 200 ‘bombes’ in place.
In 1942, the brilliant mathematician went to the United States to study the methods of breaking the 'Naval Enigma' codes that were being employed by logicians at the 'Computing Machine Laboratory' in Dayton, Ohio.
The same year, he invented the 'Turingery' method to combat and decipher coded messages being sent by Germans through their newly built 'Geheimschreiber' typing machine. The device, which was based on the new technique, and built by Alan, was given the name 'Tunny' at Bletchley Park.
During 1945-47, Turing began working at the 'National Physical Laboratory' (NPL), where he developed a machine called the 'Automatic Computing Engine' (ACE).
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Around the same time, he produced a research paper, describing his conception of computer that could hold pre-fed programs. A crude and incomplete model of the 'ACE' was built for testing purposes in 1950, when the illustrious mathematician was in Cambridge.
Computers like the 'Bendix G-15,' designed in America, and 'Electric DEUCE,' built in England, are based on the 'ACE.'
In 1948, Turing began working at the 'Computing Laboratory' which was initiated by mathematician Max Newman, and located in the 'University of Manchester.' It was here that Turing began to show an inclination towards mathematical biology.
The same year, he also worked as a lecturer at the University of Manchester's Department of Mathematics. During this time, with help from his friend D. G. Champernowne, he began developing a chess program, which could be played on a computer that he had envisioned but not built.
In 1948, he also came up with the 'LU decomposition method,' a pioneering technique which is presently used to solve matrices.
The following year, he was promoted at the university to the post of deputy director of the 'Computing Machine Laboratory.' He developed a type of software named 'Manchester Mark 1,' while continuing to research on abstract mathematics and artificial intelligence.
He developed the 'Turing Test,' which could judge whether a machine is ‘intelligent’ or not. In 1950, the chess program was built with Champernowne's help, and was named 'Turochamp.'
From 1952-54, despite failing health, he pursued research on mathematical biology, and produced a thesis titled 'The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis.'
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Personal Life & Legacy
While studying at 'Sherborne School,' Alan befriended his classmate Christopher Morcom, whom he fell in love with. The blossoming friendship ended abruptly when Morcom died of bovine tuberculosis.
In 1941, he proposed to Joan Clarke, who was his colleague at Bletchley Park. The two got engaged, but the marriage was soon called off as Turing thought it would be unfair to get married to Clarke despite being homosexual.
At the age of 39, Alan got into a relationship with the 19-year-old Arnold Murray. During a burglary investigation at the mathematician's house, personal details about his homosexuality came into light, and Alan was arrested on charges of indecency.
After his conviction in 1952, he was given a choice between hormonal castration and imprisonment. The ingenious logician chose hormonal castration through medication so that he could continue his scientific work at home.
On June 8, 1954, Alan was found poisoned at home. After the autopsy, it was concluded that he had taken his own life by consuming large quantities of potassium cyanide.
Several awards have been named after this mathematical genius. Also, many biographies were penned, and the most notable was written by the 'Royal Society.'
A novel titled 'Cryptonomicon' by American writer Neal Stephenson, published in 1999, has references of this famous mathematician.
The 2014 movie 'The Imitation Game' was based on Alan's life. In the movie, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch played the mathematician's role.
Several universities have named their rooms, buildings, and even computer programs after the distinguished mathematician.
Turing is featured in Ian McEwan's 2019 novel ‘Machines like Me.’