Alan Turing Story: How a Mathematician Genius become a criminal

Alan Turing Story: How a Mathematician Genius become a criminal


This is the extraordinary story of a mathematical genius Alan Turing, who, from a code-breaking war hero, became a criminal overnight.

Have you seen the movie The Imitation Game?

If not, you would probably watch it now as you would definitely be curious to know more about Alan Turing; the father of Artificial intelligence and modern computing.

Alan Turing, Image credits: BRITANNICA

Early Life and The passion for Science 

Alan Turing was born in Maida Vale, United Kingdom. At a very young age, Turing showed signs of the genius that he was later to display prominently.

Alan Turing: Early life and the Passion for science, Image credit: BBC

But not all his teachers were impressed as many of them put special emphasis on classic literature, to which Alan had less regard. The headmaster wrote to his mother that “if he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school”

Turing’s mind was finally allowed to shine in his undergraduate studies at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1933, he tackled a question presented by a german mathematician which still hadn’t been answered.

Does there exist a method that could determine whether any mathematical statement is true?

To answer this question, Turing presented his work on the Turing Machine; a machine that will calculate anything calculable. It was the blueprint for today’s modern computers.

The Father of Modern Computer 

By presenting his work on the Turing Machine, Alan set the foundation for a machine that will calculate everything with a set of instructions (algorithms).

This machine did not just solve one algorithm, it could solve all of them. It was the computer as we know today.

These days almost every electronic device that works on computing, from your desktop to your mobile phones, works on the principles of Turing Machine. That is why Alan Turing is considered the father of modern computing.

Breaking of Enigma Code in World War 2 

Turing’s groundbreaking work in the field of computing was still going on when World War 2 broke out. The United Kingdom declared war on Germany.

Alan took a position in the wartime cryptanalytic headquarters at Bletchley Park Buckinghamshire. The project was a top-secret to break the German codes of communication during world war 2.

Alan’s main focus was on breaking the German Enigma code. Enigma was the machine used by Germans to send encrypted messages to its NAVY and armed forces. The codes of Enigma would change daily and it was really hard to decode the messages.

It was up to Alan and his team to develop a machine that would decode the enigma codes. After many failed attempts, Alan developed a machine he called Bombe.

This machine helped decode the german communication done through the Enigma machine.  

According to some historians, the invention of Bombe helped shorten the war by at least 2 to 4 years.

It was not until 1970 that the groundbreaking work of Alan during the war was unveiled.

Enigma Machine

Alan Turing and The Birth of AI 

After the world war came to an end, Alan Turing diverted his attention again to his Turing Machine.

Related Article: Advantages and disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence

In 1954, Alan Turing published a paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in which he gives the concept of Artificial Intelligence.

But the question was; How would someone measure this intelligence?

Alan conducted a test which today is known as the Turing Test. This test is to determine how good an AI is.

The modern concept of Artificial Intelligence is based on Turing’s work and we owe all the developments because of AI to him.

Alan Turing Death and Legacy 

In 1952, Turing was charged with homosexuality which was a crime back then in the United Kingdom.

He was convicted and given a choice between imprisonment and probation. His probation was on the condition to undergo hormonal treatment.

Turing opted for the latter. But the treatment has had a negative effect on his physical and mental health. On 8 June 1954, he was found dead in his house.

With his dead body, an apple half-eaten was discovered which was believed to be poisoned. The case was dismissed as an apparent suicide.

Today, Alan Turing is widely known for his groundbreaking work in computer science. Turing Award is given every year to an individual that makes a lasting technical contribution in the field of computer science.

On a more personal note, it is heartbreaking to know that the world lost a brilliant mind like Alan Turing to a crime which is no more crime.              

Also Read: Artificial Intelligence and the Implications it poses.

Originally Published on Everyday Science Blogspot

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