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BIOGRAPHY of Alan Mathison Turing

I chose Turing because of an impressive movie I watched in college called "The Imitation Game". The genius Turing in the film has a quirky yet candid, captivating, and complex personality. However, he possesses an extraordinary aptitude for mathematics and computing, which allowed him to successfully decrypt one of the most challenging codes in history - the Enigma machine. In fact, I heard of Turing's name in elementary and middle school. Computer textbooks at the time described him as the "Father of Computer Science". Upon revisiting Turing's story as an adult, I realised his contributions to the computer field were pioneering.

1912

Alan Turing was born in London on June 23, 1912, and from an early
age demonstrated remarkable logical thinking and mathematical
abilities. In 1936, at the age of 24, he published the renowned
paper "On computable numbers, with an application to the
Entscheidungsproblem". In this paper, he introduced the concept of
"Computing machines", not an actual machine but an abstract
computational model, though immensely powerful and capable of
simulating intricate algorithms. Its design is simple, comprising an
infinitely long tape and a read-write probe. Its operational logic
corresponds to the read-write, state judgment, and jumping of a
computer program(Turing 1936). It remains a core concept in
theoretical computer science and provides the theoretical foundation
for modern computers. This concept is also called the "Turing
machine".

During World War II, Turing joined the
team tasked with deciphering German telegrams. The Germans used an
encryption device called the Enigma machine, which encrypted
plaintext in thousands of possible ways, resulting in billions of
password combinations(Kahn 1996). Turing and other cryptographers
made significant efforts to crack this code. They searched for
vulnerabilities in the vast volume of telegrams, such as the fact
that morning messages would always contain information about the
weather, or that telegrams would mention "explosion" after
intentional detonations. They used these clues to deduce the
encryption key. Moreover, Turing designed a machine to speed up key
calculations, known as the "Turing machine" or "bombe". Whenever the
German Enigma altered its encryption combinations, the bombe quickly
computed potential keys, enabling swift decryption(Hodges 2014).

World War 2

1950

In 1950, Turing published a famous paper in the Mind journal titled "Computing Machinery and Intelligence". The opening line posed a question, a question that many computer scientists and philosophers continue to ponder. Instead of providing an answer, Turing presented a method to determine the correctness of any answer-called "The Imitation Game"(Turing 2012). This method, later termed the Turing Test, profoundly impacted the philosophy and ethics of AI.

Additionally, Turing laid foundational concepts for the early computer ACE (Automatic Computing Engine). Although this computer was not built exactly according to his full design, his ideas influenced subsequent computer designs(Copeland 2005).

Turing's personal life was marked by tragedy in his later years. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK at the time, and Turing was found guilty and chose chemical castration as his punishment. On June 7, 1954, Turing died of cyanide poisoning, believed to be suicide.

After Turing's death, his contributions to computer science, his country, and the world were gradually recognized and acclaimed. In 1966, the Turing Award was established in his honor, representing the academic community's utmost respect. In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologized to Turing on behalf of the government, for the judgement. On Christmas Eve in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II announced a posthumous pardon for Turing, and in 2017, the Alan Turing Law came into effect. A monument in a Manchester park reads: "Alan Mathison Turing, Father of Computer Science, Mathematician, Logician. Wartime Codebreaker, Victim of Prejudice".

1954

- Copeland, B. J. 2005. Alan Turing's Automatic Computing Engine: The Master Codebreaker's Struggle to build the Modern Computer: The Master Codebreaker's Struggle to build the Modern Computer. OUP Oxford.
- Hodges, A. 2014. Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film" The Imitation Game". Princeton University Press.
- Kahn, D. 1996. The Codebreakers: The comprehensive history of secret communication from ancient times to the internet. Simon and Schuster.
- Turing, A. M. 1936. On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem. J. of Math 58(345-363), p. 5.
- Turing, A. M. 2012. Computing machinery and intelligence (1950). The Essential Turing: the Ideas That Gave Birth to the Computer Age, pp. 433-464.
- Wing, J. M. 2006. Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM. 49(3), pp. 33-35. doi: 10.1145/1118178.1118215