Alan Turing Biography

Alan Turing was a famous mathematician and World War II cryptanalyst, working for the British government. This biography provides detailed information about his childhood, profile, career and timeline

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Alan Mathison Turing

Famous as: Computer Scientist

Nationality: British

Birth Date: June 23, 1912

Died At Age: 41

Sun Sign: Cancer

Born in: Maida Vale

father: Julius Mathison Turing

mother: Ethel Sara Stoney

siblings: John Turing

religion: Atheism

Died on: June 7, 1954

place of death: Wilmslow

Cause of Death: Suicide

discoveries/inventions: LU Decomposition, Universal Turing Machine

More Facts

education: 1938-06 - Princeton University, 1934 - King's College, Cambridge, Sherborne School, Institute for Advanced Study, St. Michael's School

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Computers would probably have been non-existent if it wasn't for famous British mathematician, Alan Turing. Having been a child prodigy, he went on to pursue his PhD from the 'Princeton University'. Soon, he became an important member of a group of code-breakers in the 'Government Code and Cypher School' ('GC&CS') in Bletchley Park. He was given the daunting task of deciphering the ever-changing German codes sent through the ingenious machine, 'Enigma'. Alan proved the almost impossible task, possible with his 'bombe' device, which used a technique called 'Banburismus'. Eventually this mathematician and his team of code-breakers were successful in defeating the 'Enigma'. However, two code-breakers from his team were found out to be Soviet spies, and thus the work was declared highly confidential. For a long time, no records of Turing's work were available, and the 'Official Secrets Act' prohibited him from talking about his work to anyone. His homosexuality caused him to be convicted, though the British government has apologized posthumously in recent times. His works and life has recently been popularized by the ‘Academy Award’ winning movie, ‘The Imitation Game’, released in 2014. Read on and explore the life and works of this brilliant mathematician and code-breaker.

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Alan Turing
Childhood & Early Life
  • Alan Mathison Turing was born to Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara on June 23, 1912, in Paddington, London. Julius was employed with the 'Indian Civil Service', and with his wife, he had another son, John.
  • He pursued his elementary education from 'St Michael's', later studying at the '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 called '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 taught cryptology, and 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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Career
  • 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, through the radio machine, 'Enigma'. In 1939, the 'Polish Cipher Bureau' had shared with the 'GC&CS', their method of trying to break the codes.
  • Knox and Alan tried to develop the complex Polish techniques into a simpler and more workable method. The indicators referred to by the Polish were not too reliable, since they could be altered at any point of time by the Germans. Turing thus tried using decoding methods, and developed a device known as 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 out Prime Minister Winston Churchill for 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 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, based on the new technique, 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').
  • 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' initiated by mathematician Max Newman, located in the 'University of Manchester'. It was here that the former began showing 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 stated 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 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 can 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 the thesis titled 'The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis'.
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Major Works
  • This scientist is known for having pioneered the concept of modern-day computers, by introducing the idea of a ‘Turing Machine’, which is simple, and yet capable of solving any form of algorithms that can be measured and quantified.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Alan was awarded the 'Smith's Prize' in 1939, by the 'University of Cambridge', for his exceptional contribution in the field of applied mathematics.
  • In 1945, this great mathematician was honoured by King George VI, with the 'Most Excellent Order of the British Empire', for his services during the World War II.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • While studying at the 'Sherborne School', Alan befriended classmate Christopher Morcom, who the former fell in love with. The blossoming friendship abruptly ended 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 when Turing decided it was unfair getting married to Clarke despite being homosexual.
  • At the age of 39, Alan got into a relationship with 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 conviction in 1952, he was given a choice between hormonal castration using medicines or imprisonment. The ingenious logician chose medication so that he could continue his scientific work at home.
  • On June 8, 1954, Alan was found poisoned at home, and 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, and many biographies have been penned, the most notable being by the 'Royal Society'.
  • A novel, 'Cryptonomicon', by American writer, Neal Stephenson, published in 1999, refers to this famous mathematician.
  • The 2014 movie, 'The Imitation Game', was featured on Alan's life, with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch playing the mathematician's role.
  • Several universities have named rooms, buildings, and even computer programs, after the distinguished mathematician.
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Trivia
  • This famous British mathematician was also a fast long-distance runner, who appeared for the 'British Olympic' try-outs in 1948. He lost out to famous runner Thomas Richards, falling short by a meagre 11 minutes.
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Article Title
- Alan Turing Biography
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Last Updated
- July 21, 2017

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