Born on 23 June 1912 in London, Alan Turing was a mathematician and cryptographer and a pioneer in computer science and artificial intelligence. After graduating in 1934 from King’s College, Cambridge University, he was elected to a fellowship based on his dissertation on the central limit theorem. In 1936 Turing published a groundbreaking paper, now considered the foundation of computer science, in which he proposed the idea of a universal computing machine that could decode and perform any set of instructions. Also in 1936 Turing entered graduate school at Princeton University, where he would complete his PhD in mathematical logic two years later. During World War II Turing established himself as a world-class cryptographer when he went to work for the UK government’s codebreaking department. His and his coworkers’ efforts to develop a machine to break the Nazi Enigma code were credited with helping the Allies win the war in Europe. After the war, in 1945, Turing was recruited to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in London. There he designed the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), an electronic stored-program digital computer. Problems between Turing and NPL delayed ACE’s construction, so Turing moved in 1948 to the University of Manchester, which had already built a small computer. In 1950 he published perhaps his most famous paper, in which he proposed the Turing test for determining whether machines can think. The test has become an important concept in debates over artificial intelligence. Turing was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1946 and elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1951. A year later he was arrested and convicted of being a homosexual and sentenced to 12 months of hormone therapy. His death from cyanide poisoning at age 41 in 1954 was ruled a suicide, though historians still don’t know what led to his death. The British government formally apologized for Turing’s treatment in 2009; four years later, Queen Elizabeth II issued a royal pardon.
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23 June 2018
The famed mathematician, codebreaker, and computer scientist was far ahead of his time.
© 2018 American Institute of Physics