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Alan Turing : Birth, Family, Education, First Love, Research and Suicide


(Last Updated On: February 20, 2020)

alan-turing story

Birth

Alan Mathison Turing was born on 23rd June 1912 in Maida Vale, London. He was a brilliant boy from his childhood only. At a young age only, he showed high skills and was a very intelligent student who was recognized for his contributions in different fields preparing himself from the beginning only. He became a famous personality carrying along with him his intelligence and working upon it to contribute something in different areas to the world.

Family

Turing was born in an upper-middle-class British family. His father was Julius Mathison Turing who was posted in the Indian Civil Service (ICS). He had to leave his town for his job and went to Chatrapur for the same. Turing’s Grandfather Rev. John Robert Turing was from a Scottish family and was much reputed as the family had their profession as merchants. His mother Ethel Sara Turing belonged to a Protestant Anglo-Irish family. The couple had two children, Alan Turing and his elder brother John Turing.

Education

 

Turing started his schooling life at the age of six when he was enrolled in the school named St. Michael’s. Further, he was enrolled in an independent school in Sussex named the Hazelhurst Preparatory School. For his further studies, when he was 13 years old, he was made to study in a boarding independent school named Sherborne School in Sherborne, Dorset. He was majorly interested in the two Subjects mathematics and physics. He was excellent at maths and solved sums and problems without any difficulty. Now finishing with his school life, for higher studies, Turing enrolled himself for his graduate degree at King’s College, Cambridge in 1931. He was awarded his degree of mathematic honors with distinction. In 1935, he was elected as a member who is learned and intelligent among others known as a fellow in the University when he proved the central limit theorem in mathematics completing his dissertation on it but this theorem was already proved by Lindeberg in 1922. He was quite intelligent and writing research papers and solving many problems he was capable of solving sums without difficulty.

 

Turing’s first love

“Turing’s first love” can be seen when he was in Sherborne and he formed a very important friendship with a boy named Christopher Morcom who was his classmate. He was inspired by him and Christopher helped Turing in his future endeavors too. But soon Turing had to suffer a loss with the death of Morcom in 1930 due to tuberculosis which was caused by drinking the milk of an infected cow. After a period of grief and sorrow, Turing overcomes the pain and again stood up and worked in his areas of interest.

An effective method of solving a problem

Being intelligent and focused in his academic life, Turing in his college life published a paper “On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem“. The problem meant to be a decision problem which was originally introduced by David Hilbert in 1928. Turing formulated a solution to this problem improving a little from Kurt Gödel‘s original solution to the problem and presented it in his paper that he published in the London Mathematical Society journal in two parts. To solve this problem he used formal and simple hypothetical devices which came to be known as the Turing Machines. For a decision problem, a decision method was to be formulated by Turing and in this process, he invented the Universal Turing Machine that condensed the fundamental logical principals of a digital computer at that time. He became famous for giving the solution to the problem and also for inventing the Universal Turing Machine. This Turing machine was capable of computing anything which was computable.

 

Areas of research

  • Cryptanalysis- Turing kept on researching, writing papers and making them published for the general public. Besides working in mathematics, he diverted his attention towards cryptology too and started working on new things in that field. Cryptology was the study of codes and ciphers which could be used to send secret messages to one another and Turing started working in this area too. He also completed three stages of an electro-mechanical binary multiplier. After his graduation and a few years, in 1939, Turing was appointed as a leading person who was to break the German codes at Bletchley Park. He was also appraised by a historian and wartime code-breaker Asa Briggs. He continued to work with the British code-breaking organization ‘The Government Code and Cipher School’ (GC&CS). Simultaneously he also paid attention to the Cryptology of Enigma, researching and finding solutions along with Dilly Knox, his senior. He cracked the Enigma code which was a very tough job for him as the messages which came from Germany were highly protected and sent through the Enigma machines. Turing cracked this problem too and had a great achievement in his life. Hence, he succeeded in this area which he took up studying besides mathematics and excelled in Cryptanalysis.

 

  • Bombe- At Bletchley Park itself, he introduced an electrochemical machine called the Bombe. As he was appointed to break the German codes, so to do it effectively he introduced this machine. The machine decoded the Enigma messages which were highly protected messages. Bombe proved to be a very useful machine and decoded the messaged easily. Bombe was an excellent machine but was not able to decode all the ciphers from Germany. Being frustrated, Turing and his fellows in Bletchley Park wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill to provide a lot many arrangements so that things can be done to decode all the messages as the requirements were not fulfilled but they had a genius mind only. As a reaction of the Prime Minister, all the adjustments were made and there were around 100s of bombe machines working at the end of the Second World War. He next turned to the German naval signals decoding it with the help of his ‘Hut 8’ team at Bletchley Park and got a victory in that too.

 

  • Turingery- Now new messages were being transmitted from Germany known as the Lorenz Cipher messages. So, to decrypt them Turing formulated a technique known as Turingery. This was a Teleprinter coder Cipher which was given a name Tunny at the Bletchley Park. So, Turingery was a wheel-breaking method. Turingery was given by Turing for decoding the Lorenz Cipher messages and he was successful in that too.

 

  • Turing test- Turing lived in Hampton, London during the period of 1945-47. He worked on another project that was the Automatic Computing Engine at the National Physical Laboratory. Besides this project, he also studied and published research papers relating to different topics one after the other. In 1948, at the Victoria University of Manchester, he was appointed as a Reader (Senior academic with a distinguished international reputation) in the department of mathematics. He concentrated on the Computing machinery and Intelligence and moved towards addressing artificial intelligence and came out with an experiment which further came to be known as the Turing Test. The test was based on the concept of artificial intelligence and was first given by Turing. In today’s World, a reverse test known as the Captcha test is used to check whether the user is a machine or a human mind. So, Turing touched the area of artificial intelligence too and succeeded in introducing the Turing Test.

A Computer designer

 

When he gave the Turing Test, he was initially working on the Automatic Computing Engine at the National Physical laboratory. This Automatic Computing Machine is to be known as the all-purpose problem solving the first digital computer. But things don’t always go the right way. The computer was not built according to Turing and so to compensate a much smaller machine was made known as the Pilot Model Automatic Computing Engine in 1950. The perks of the first computer invention went to the Royal Society Computing machine Laboratory. Further, Turing appointed himself as the director of the National Physical Laboratory. His earlier concepts were very important and very supportive for Manchester. On returning back to Manchester, he introduced the input-output system and also worked upon the first programming manual in which he was successful. This programming manual was used in the first marketable electronic digital computer in the World which was known as Ferranti Mark I in 1951.

Marriage

 

Turing is known to have his first love in the school with Christopher Morcom who was a boy too. He showed traits of being homosexual from school only. Further, when he grew up, in 1941, he was attracted towards one of his colleagues from the ‘Hut 8’, Joan Clarke who was also a mathematician and a cryptanalyst. He proposed him for marriage but couldn’t go on further as Clarke was perturbed and so he left the marriage in between. Further, he again was attracted towards a boy named Arnold Murray in 1952 when he was 39 years old.

 

Act of indecency

 

Turing met Arnold Murray outside the Regal Cinema who was a 19-year old boy and was unemployed. Turing showed love to him. But this love wasn’t legal and had to face a penalty. At that time Turing’s house was burgled and as a result, it was found by Turing that Murray was familiar with the person who did this and knowing this Turing reported the incident to the police. During the investigation, Police cops found out that there had been a sexual relationship between Turing and Murray. At that time, Homosexual activities were considered under crimes in the United Kingdom and so both of them Turing and Murray were arrested for doing an act of indecency and were subjected to the case under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885.

After the hearing, Turing was given choices between the two. Either he would go for imprisonment or he may take up Probation. He was allowed to go for probation only if he becomes ready to undergo hormonal physical changes that were designed to reduce libido (Person’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity) at that time. So, he accepted the second option that was probation and became ready for injections and medicines which would make him impotent. Being a prisoner and then being released out of the jail, he wasn’t allowed to enter any of his earlier places, neither in the Government communications headquarters nor at the Bletchley Park and other places too. He was prohibited to enter places and was given no right for his further accomplishments and also was prohibited from continuing cryptology.

 

Suicide

Alan Turing died on 8th June 1954 when he was 41 years of age and was found dead by his housekeeper. Going through the tests to look out for the reason of the death, Cyanide poisoning was the cause. This was a suicide. Turing took a high dose of apple seeds which caused him to die out of cyanide poison. He was cremated on 12th June 1954 at Working Crematorium and his ashes were scattered in its garden the same as that of his father.

 

Justice to Turing

 

Turing died but he left people who stood in support of him forever. In August 2009, British programmer John Graham-Cumming came up and revolted against the government to ask forgiveness for the prosecution that was done against Turing as him being homosexual. For this plea, he filed a petition which received over 30,000 signatures of people. Citizens loved Turing.

As a result of this petition, the then Prime minister Gordon Brown accepted the petition and gave a statement in favor of the petition on 10th September 2009 illustrating the treatment to Turing as horrifying. So, Turing was given justice after so many years of his demise.

 

Honours during his life and after death

 

Turing was a genius since birth. He could do whatever in this field and gave a lot of contribution to the country and to the world as a whole. He was also appointed to as the Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1946. Further again he was given a post as a fellow in the Royal Society in 1951. During his life, he has contributed a lot and has been given fame as a result of many things like:-

  • Alan Turing Institute
  • Church-Turing Test
  • Turing degree
  • Turing fixed-point combinator
  • Turing lecture
  • Turing machine, etc

Not only was he given fame during his life, but also after death:-

 

  • Turing Room- A computer room in King’s College, Cambridge.
  • Statue of Turing at the University of Surrey and a building in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical sciences is named after him.
  • An annual conference on the theory of computation is organized by the Istanbul Bilgi University called the ‘Turing Days’.
  • Alan Turing Auditorium- A lecture room at the Stanford University.
  • Computer Laboratory at the University of Washington is named after Turing.
  • A tribunal “Alan Turing” building in honor of him being a code breaker at the University of Wolverhampton.
  • A street is named after him in Redmond, Washington.
  • The University of Toronto has developed Turing programming language in 1982.

Many more tributes have been given to Turing except all these in a number of Universities and other places. He has been a famous personality and has contributed a lot to the world. In return, he has received all the fame from the public too.

 

100th-anniversary commemoration

 

Turing is been remembered still and in honor of whom his 100th anniversary was also celebrated. A full year was spent on Turing’s activities relating to his works and all the contribution he has given. The ‘Alan Turing Year’ was organized by the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee (TCAC). Members from Bletchley Park, Cambridge University, etc attended this year indulging in different activities which Turing did in his life. So, the whole of Manchester celebrated the 100th anniversary of Turing and participated in all the activities willingly and with full support to Turing.

Not only the 100th anniversary but furthermore events, public speeches, celebrations, etc were held in order to pay tribute to the life of Turing and to remember him and his works in today’s world too.

 

Famous personality

 

Alan Turing has been a famous personality and his character has been presented in many films, shows, etc. His life, activities, significant events and important contributions have been presented in music, drama, television, etc. Some of them include:-

  • A play starring Derek Jacobi in which Jacobi played the role of Turing, written by Hugh Whitemore – “Breaking the Code” in 1986.
  • Turing is featured in a novel written by Neal Stephenson named Cryptonomicon in 1999.
  • Turing has also been featured in the novel Turing Test written by Graham Greene in 2000.
  • Turing is featured in Ian McEwan‘s novel, Machines Like MeISBN 978-1787331662 in 2019.
  • Code breaker is also a title of a choral work composed by James McCarthy.
  • A T.V. film “Codebreaker” launched on 21st November 2011 by Channel 4 also stars characters playing Turing’s life.
  • “The Imitation Game” directed by Morten Tyldum is a historical T.V. drama film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and other characters playing Joan Clarke and others in Turing’s life.
  • A novel “Speak” written by Louisa Hall in 2015 also portrays the life of Alan Turing, etc.

So, Turing was a reputed person at his time and is also known for his work in today’s world. He has been portrayed in a number of T.V. series, films, and other fiction and is respected by all for his contributions and activities he did for the country and the world during his life.

 

 

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