Alan Turing

Alan_Turing_photo.jpgAlan Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in London. He was a mathematician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. During World War II, he made five major advances in the field of cryptanalysis, including specifying the bombe, an electromechanical device which allowed the code-breakers to crack the German Enigma code.

In 1936,Turing delivered a paper, "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungs problem," in which he presented the notion of a universal machine (later called the “Universal Turing Machine," and then the "Turing machine") capable of calculating anything that is calculable: The central concept of the modern computer was based on his paper. After receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1938, he returned to Cambridge, and then took a part-time position with the Government Code and Cypher School, a British code-breaking organization. During World War II, he made five major advances in the field of cryptanalysis, including specifying the bombe, an electromechanical device which allowed the code-breakers to crack the German Enigma code. Turing’s contributed more to the code-writing two papers about mathematical approaches to code-breaking, which became such important assets to the Code and Cypher School.

After the war, Turing moved to London and began working for the National Physical Laboratory. By the late 1940s he would hold high-ranking positions in the mathematics department and later the computing laboratory at the University of Manchester. Turing first addressed the subject of artificial intelligence in his 1950 paper, "Computing machinery and intelligence," and proposed an experiment to create intelligence design standard for the tech industry, called the “Turing Test”. Over the past several decades, the test has significantly influenced debates over artificial intelligence.

In January of 1952, 19 year old Arnold Murray broke into Turing’s house. Homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s, so when Turing admitted to police, that the perpetrator was his former lover, he was charged with gross indecency. Following his arrest, Turing was forced to choose between temporary probation on the condition that he receive hormonal treatment, resulting in chemical castration, or imprisonment. He chose the former. As a result of his conviction, Turing's security clearance was removed and he was barred from continuing his work with cryptography.

Turing died on June 7, 1954 from cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple was found beside Turing's bed and although it was not tested for cyanide, it is believed that it was through the apple that the fatal dose was consumed: An autopsy determined that Turing had committed suicide.

LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have contributed significantly in several ways to the advancement of our community. Limited by the number of days on the calendar, showcasing every individual who has made a major impact would be difficult. Yet, across decades and eras, revolutions and wars, and discovery and enlightenment, SPART*A honors past and present LGBT figures in our history this month.

 


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