Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (pronounced /ˈtjʊərɪŋ/ TEWR-ing; 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954), was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalization of the concept of the algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer.1

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. For a time he was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE.

Towards the end of his life Turing became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis,2 and he predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.

Turing’s homosexuality resulted in a criminal prosecution in 1952 — homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time — and he accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. He died in 1954, several weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined it was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.3

Alan Turing

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