A Brief Biography of Alan Turing: A Pioneer in Computing

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

Alan Turing is one of the biggest names in the field of computer sciences, crypto analysis, artificial intelligence, and even the philosophy of artificial intelligence and mechanic consciousness.

Alan Mathison Turing left an enormous legacy behind him and is an inspiration for many in the field of artificial intelligence and computer science. Turing not only lent his contributions towards the development of computers and artificial intelligence, but he also saved millions of lives during World War II.

In this blog, we shall be looking at a brief biography of Alan Turing and his contributions towards the development of computer science, Artificial Intelligence, and modern-day Chatbots.

Early Life

Alan Mathison Turing was born in Maida Vale on 23rd of June 1912, in London. Alan’s father, Julius Mathison Turing, was part of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) and was stationed in India’s Odisha state. Alan Turin’s mother was Ethel Sara Turing.

Due to Turing’s father’s position in ICS, the family of Turing spent a lot there in India. However, Turing’s parents wanted to raise their son in Britain, so the family moved to Maida Vale in London.

Turing was the second son of Julius and Ethel. Since his adolescence, Alan Turing showed signs of genius. The job of Julius requires him to visit and travel to different places. Parents of Turing would leave their two sons with a retired army couple.

School Life

Alan Turing was enrolled in St Michael’s, a day school at 20 Charles Road, St Leonards-on-sea when he was six.  Since his adolescence, he was known by his teachers for his remarkable genius. Alan Turing was regarded as a child prodigy.

Between 1922 and 1926, Turing was admitted to Hazelhurst Preparatory School. Then in 1926, Turing was admitted to Sherborne School at the age of 13. Sherborne school was a boarding school in the town of Sherborne in Dorset.

Turing was enormously inclined towards the subjects he was interested in. Alan Turing once rode to his school on a bicycle for 97 kilometers to attend the first day of his term, which coincided with the 1926 general strike.

Turing was able to accomplish many impressive feats in school life. Turing was able to solve advanced problems in 1927 without taking courses on even the elementary versions of Calculus. At age 16, Alan Turing was able to grasp Einstein’s work, specifically Einstein’s criticism of Newtonian physics.

University Life and Research

After completing his studies in Sherborne, Turing started studying at King’s College, Cambridge. Turing received many first-color honors in mathematics. At age 22, Turing proved the Central Limit Theorem.

In 1936, Turing spent his time studying under the church at Princeton University. Turing also studied cytology along with his mathematical works. Turing also built three stages of an electro-mechanical binary multiplier. Turing received his Ph.D. from the Department of Mathematics in Princeton in June 1938.

The Entscheidungsproblem

The Entscheidungsproblem was a problem in mathematics and computer sciences first posed by David Hilbert and Wilhelm Ackermann in 1928. The German word for the problem translates to a decision problem.

The problem asks for an algorithm that can respond to our logical questions in yes or no answers. The questions will consist of universally accepted notions such as axioms. Turing published his work “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.”

Turing’s work put forth the idea of his “Universal Turing Machine” and promised that his machine would be able to perform the feats the problem demands it to. If an algorithm is provided to the machine, then the machine will be able to perform any mathematical operation.

Turing’s paper has been known as the most influential work in mathematics. Ad mist his work, Turing gives the abstract idea of the Universal Turing Machine, which acted as an antecedent towards the development of modern computers.

Career

Alan Turing accomplished many feats throughout his career, which includes providing an abstract idea of a Universal Turing Machine, breaking the Enigma Code, and proposal of the Turing test.

Universal Turing Machine

Universal Turing machine was an abstract idea of a machine capable of stimulating the description of the machine as well as the input on that machine, which is stored in a tape. Alan Turing introduced his idea in 1936.

The Universal Turing machine acted as an inspiration for a stored-program computer created by John Von Neuman in 1946. These Turing ideas helped the computer sciences take their intuitions about automata one step further and opened limitless probabilities of advancement in the field of computer science.

The Code Breaker and Cryptoanalysis of the Enigma Machine

Alan started working part-time with the British Government before the events of World War II at the Code and Cypher School (GC&CS;), the British code-breaking organization. Alan became a full-time participant in the cryptanalysis of the German ciphers at Bletchley Park in 1939.

Alan’s work was focused on deciphering the encrypted messages of the Enigma Machine used by Nazi Germany. His work was in collaboration with his partners Dilly Knox and a senior code breaker at GC&CS;.

The polish cipher bureau was successful in deciphering the Nazi codes before it. However, Germans had strengthened their safety protocols, which made breaking the enigma code a harder task than before.

With the sharing of information given by the polish cipher bureau, Alan Turing and his team at the Bletchley Park was able to create a bombe machine used for decryption of the enigma codes. Alan Turing also lent his help deducing the indicator procedures used by Nazi Germany.

Bombe

The Turing-Welchman Bombe was an electromechanical machine specified by Alan Turing. It was based on the Polish Bomba Kryptologizna. The Bombe was highly effective at breaking and deciphering of Nazi Germany’s messages encrypted by the Enigma Machine.

The Bombe worked using a crib-based decryption system. It searched for possible settings used by the Enigma Machine, such as the rotor order, rotor settings, and plugboard settings using a crib. The crib performed logical deductions and was effective at reducing the work of the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park.

Naval Enigma

Alan Turing broke the code of the Enigma Machine and the code of the German navy. The British departments were facing increasing difficulties in breaking the German navy code, so Alan decided.

Alan solved the German navy indicator and further advised the use of Banburismus, a cryptanalytical process that was essential in breaking the code of the German navy. Alan Turing, along with Us navy cryptanalysts, worked on the naval Enigma and his efforts were effective in reducing the work of the cryptanalysts in deciphering the codes.

The Turing Test and Antecedents Towards the Development of Early Computers and Artificial Intelligence

Alan Turing initially called his test the Imitation Game when he created it in 1950. The fact that it has come to be known as the Turing Test shows his importance in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The Turing Test revolves around testing a machine’s capability to exhibit intelligent behavior akin to a human being. Turing wrote a paper in 1950 titled “Computer Machinery and Intelligence,” where he first proposed his test.

The Turing Test can be summed up in one question, “Can machines think?” Alan Turing pondered upon this profound question and advised a test to determine the machines’ ability to think.

A Turing Test is carried out between two participants and an interrogator. One of the participants is human, while the other is a machine. The interrogator’s job is to simultaneously hold a conversation between the two participants and determine who is human and who is a machine.

Turing Test was profoundly inspirational in the sense that it opened up new possibilities for automata and was a precedent to early developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The Turing test’s real-world implication can be seen in the form of the Loebner Prize, which announces a prize for whoever wins the Turing test.

A reversed version of the Turing Test is used in the form of CAPTCHA as a safety protocol on websites to find out whether the person interacting with the website is human or a bot.

Death and Legacy

Alan Turing died early because he was homosexual; he and his 19-year-old sexual partner Murray were charged with indecency after Turing admitted to being in a sexual relationship with Murray. At the time, being homosexual was illegal in Britain, and sadly in much of the world. Under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, both Alan and Murray were charged with gross indecency. Turing was convicted and was given a choice between imprisonment and probation with chemical castration.

Alan chose the second option; Alan would be given Diethylstilbestrol injections, a synthetic estrogen designed to eliminate his libido. The doses also resulted in the development of breast tissues in Alan Turing.

Suicide

Alan Turing was found dead by his housekeeper on 8 June 1954. The cause of death was regarded as Cyanide poising, and it is believed that he committed suicide by taking lethal doses. Turing’s body was cremated, and the ashes were scattered in Working Crematorium.

Legacy

After his death, the prime minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, issued an apology to Turing following a petition by John Graham-Cumming. Britain made a policing and crime act law in 2017, which included an Alan Turing Law, which pardons men who were historically convicted under homosexual acts.

Alan Turing has left an enormous legacy behind him, his contributions in the field of computer sciences and Artificial Intelligence are limitless, and there’s no doubt that he is a pioneer in mathematics, logic, and cryptoanalysis.

In Closing

First of all, Alan Turing’s contributions to the world were astounding, and in retrospect, I believe that all decent human beings can see that his treatment simply because of who he loved was horrible and even criminal. Now that I have made that statement clear, let’s talk about his work. Turing, along with the others at Bletchley Park, solved the encryption of the Enigma Machine using an earliy computing device he helped design and build. It is estimated that this saved the lives of more than 14 million people. That act alone makes him one of the most important figures of the 20th Century.

But his contributions to the developments of Computing and Artificial Intelligence may have had an even greater impact. How many lives have been saved by the use is AI in the fields of Medicine? How many lives have been saved by the use of Computers to predict the paths of Hurricanes and Tornadoes? And those are just two fields that Computers have had an impact in.

The creation of chatbots is a small part of what Alan Turing had a hand in creating, but that’s how it is with great minds, they touch so many different small things with their minds that we tend to forget how big they were as a whole.

Alan Turing was a giant.

We hope that the blog was informative.
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