Alan Turing: the life of the father of computing

Alan Turing is by consensus the father of modern computing.

Are you using a laptop, a computer, a smartphone, or even set a network of IoT devices? Then you are using technologies made possible by the work, research, and insight of this young Fellow of the King’s College, University of Cambridge.

Alan Turing is one of the world’s best-known mathematicians. By far, the most known in the past century.

This is for his work on cracking German codes and the infamous Enigma Machine in World War II. But also for his arrest, conviction and punishment for homosexuality in the 1950s.

This theoretical work was the basis for the later development of computers and computer science in general.

His work, moreover, paved the way to the transformative possibilities of the connected digital era we living in.

Read more about his story below, then!

 

Alan Turing: early years and  WW2

Turing started off his career as a mathematics researcher at the University of Cambridge in the 1930s, where he graduated in 1934.

During WW2, Turing worked for the SIGINT unit of British Government, as known as GC&CS at Bletchley Park.

There, he supervised the activities of Hut 8, the section that broke German naval codes.

Here, he devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers. Particularly, he augmented the pre-war Polish bombe.

The bombe was an electromechanical machine that could violate the Enigma machine.

Its augmented version, called the Turing Machin,  was the prototype of an early computer.

He would complete the development of computing of early computing technology shortly after the WW2.

Turing thus played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages. Particularly, it enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Automatic Computing Engine

After the war, Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the Automatic Computing Engine.

The Automatic Computing Engine was one of the first designs for a stored-program computer.

However, Turing did not develop the early computing technology alone. In 1947, he had contacts and meeting with various German scientists.

They surely contributed to Turing’s research efforts.

Since 1948, Turing read mathematics at the University of Manchester.

Turing then joined Max Newman’s Computing Machine Laboratory, at the Victoria University of Manchester. Here, he contributed to develop the Manchester computers.

Alan Turing: incrimination and death

Despite his success as academic and developer, his personal life went under the lenses.

An English court prosecuted Turing in 1952 for homosexual acts.

The British law system prosecuted homosexuality as “gross indecency”, according to the Labouchere Amendment of 1885.

It was thus a criminal offence in the UK.

Once convicted, he accepted chemical castration treatment with DES.

Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death as a suicide.

However, the police inquire also mentioned that his death was consistent with accidental poisoning.

Conclusion and Alan Turing’s legacy

To conclude, the main scientific contribution of the Turing Machine was mathematical. Indeed, Turing machines allowed the formal definition of the concept of “algorithms”.

By doing so, he solved the so-called Hilbert’s  “decision problem”, a major mathematical conjecture of his times.

This theoretical work was the basis for the later development of computers and computer science in general.

His work, moreover, paved the way to the transformative possibilities of the connected digital era we living in.

Finally, the activity and the research he performed in many years of hard work also showed an inward dedication towards the inner recognition of his self-expression he was prosecuted for.