Alan Turing Would be 100 this weekIn history, there are few men who have changed the world as much as Alan Turing. You are probably already aware of him; his Turing Machine is seen as the foundation for all modern computing. In 1936, at a time before we had harnessed the power of the atom, he proposed a simple machine of tape and logic. A long tape would be marked and fed through a reader.
The reader would take certain actions based on on what the tape told it to do. The turing machine was purely a thought experiment, not intended as a blueprint for actual computers, but nonetheless it showed that, with enough tape, everything could be computed.
Statue of Turing by Stephen Kettle at Bletchley Park
You might also know him from his Turing test, another thought experiment meant to show that computers can be thought of as alive if they are sufficiently advanced. It went like this: a series of questions were asked to two separate entities. One is a human, the other a computer. If the questioner can't guess which one is human, the machine might as well be alive.
But he contributed more than groundbreaking thought experiments. Turing worked with many of the earliest modern-style computers. He also was partly responsible for the breaking of the Enigma machine's coding in WWII, thanks to the creation of a device called the Bombe. He essentially started the field of artificial intelligence, and his work remained relevant for a long, long time.
Unfortunately, Turing wasn't a man who fit into his world. He was gay, which was a criminal offense in the United Kingdom at the time. When it came out that he liked men rather than women, his reputation was destroyed. He had the choice of either going to prison for his crimes or undergoing chemical castration, and he opted for castration. His clearance in the government was revoked and he could no longer work on the encryption problems that he was tackling. There was fear that he was a spy for the Russians.
On June 8th, 1954, he committed suicide. He was on the verge of his 42nd birthday.
Photo by : SjoerdFerwerda