Alan Turing and his Impact on the World
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
If you can read this article, you have access to the most powerful tool of our generation, capable of answering all sorts of questions! And for this, the credit goes to Alan Turing - the father of modern computer science and artificial intelligence. The outstanding mathematician, cryptanalyst AND athlete has also become one of the icons for LGBTQ+ rights. Who was he, and how did he impact the world?
Alan Turing was born on June 23rd, 1912 in Madia Vale, London in a middle-class British family. From the very beginning, Turing was curious about the world around him and showed immense potential in science and mathematics. This, however, unsettled his teachers and parents as the earlier education system emphasized more on the classics. Despite all this, he went on to graduate from King’s College, Cambridge University in Mathematics and subsequently earned a PhD from Princeton University for his thesis “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals''
During his time in King's College, he worked on the Entscheidungsproblem (the decision problem). He wanted to prove that if we have a set of axioms, then there are some situations where there is no algorithm that would determine if the conclusion of those axioms are true or false, and he finally did it. For this work, he was recognised.
World War II & Beyond
In the year 1938, Turing worked part-time in the Government Code & Cipher School, primarily working on the cryptanalysis of the Enigma machine used by Germans to encrypt and decrypt their messages. The next year, the UK declared war on Germany, and Turing was transferred to Bletchley Park, where he and his team of cryptanalysts tried to crack the Enigma. The Polish Cipher Bureau had managed to get hold of one of the Enigma machines and tried to create a prototype machine to crack it, and they called it Bomba. The Bomba exploited the technique of 'repeated letters.' A few years later, it turned out to be ineffective. Initially, six Bomba were needed to break a message, but at the end of 1938, two new rotors were introduced. This meant that sixty Bomba would be required, and this was beyond the resources of the Polish at the time. Later, repeated letters could not be used, and that was the end of Bomba. Alan Turing helped build a more effective version called the Bombe. He could crack the system by focusing on the idea of 'crib' or predictable words in the German messages. The Bombe saved millions of lives during WWII. After the war, he worked on various other projects such as the Automatic Computing Engine (one of the first designs of a stored-programmed computer), Manchester computers, and he even went on to explore mathematical biology — he wrote a paper on morphogenesis. He also wrote the first ever chess computer algorithm which was a part of his work on Artificial Intelligence, and also developed a method to encrypt and decrypt phone calls. Unfortunately, he wasn't recognized for his work due to the Official Secrets Act.
Unusually for his time, Alan Turing was openly gay, but this was viewed as a criminal offence in earlier times. In 1952, Alan Turing was prosecuted for "Gross Indecency" and had to undergo chemical castration. It is believed that this discrimination and treatment led to his depression. He was found dead at his house in 1954. While some people speculate that the cause was suicide by cyanide poisoning, his family does not think so. Some people also believe that the poisoning was accidental. It was years later, in 2009 when thousands of people signed a Downing Street petition calling for a posthumous government apology to Alan Turing. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the British government finally made a posthumous apology to not just Turing, but other gay men who were subjected to the old laws. In 2013, Turing was granted a rare royal pardon by the Queen, and in 2017, the Turing Law was passed, which automatically pardoned deceased people convicted for homosexuality. To honor Turing, he was featured on the £50 note, and this was welcomed by the members of the LGBT+ community as a sign of progress and acceptance, as Turing was the first gay man to be featured on a note. Turing was a great man who had left an extensive legacy in the field of mathematics, computer science, and society.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a proud INTJ who is passionate about Cosmology and Theoretical Physics (Especially Quantum Gravity). Being a STEM enthusiast and an amateur writer, I founded STEM 4 Everyone last year, which combine my two passions. Apart from writing and STEM, I also like to research, solve puzzles, learn new languages (I currently know 4 and I am learning 2) , and to travel.