Alan Turing, 41, “one of the secret code breakers working at Britain’s Bletchley Park during World War II,” died on 07 June 1954. He has often been called “the father of computer science” as well as “the father of artificial intelligence.”
Beginning in 1938, Turing worked part-time with the British codebreaking organization the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). In September 1939, after the UK declared war on Germany, Turing reported to Bletchley Park, the wartime station of GC&CS. One challenge facing the UK: the German Enigma machine:
The complexity of the German Enigma – an electromagnetic machine that replaced plain text letters with random letters chosen according to the settings of a series of rotors – lay in the fact that its inner elements could be set in billions of different combinations, meaning it would be virtually impossible to decode text without knowing the original settings. As the war progressed, the German military added more rotors to the machine, making it even more complex.
With help from the Polish government, which had obtained one of the machines, “Turing cracked the system.” He did so by creating an algorithm that reduced “the number of possible settings the British decryption machines, called bombes, had to test each day.”
After WWII, Turing lived in London and worked on computing at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory. In 1946, he presented a paper with the “first detailed design of a stored-program computer.”
In January 1952, Turning began a relationship with Arnold Murray at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offense. When charged, he pleaded guilty and underwent hormone treatments (estrogen injections in the form of DES).
He died on 07 June 1954.
Although his death was ruled suicide, Professor Jack Copeland (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand) believes that the evidence collected then would not be sufficient today “to establish a suicide verdict.”
Turing’s death might have been an accident or even murder.
His housekeeper famously found the 41-year-old mathematician dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple on his bedside table…
But according to Prof Copeland, it was Turing’s habit to take an apple at bedtime, and that it was quite usual for him not to finish it; the half-eaten remains found near his body cannot be seen as an indication of a deliberate act.
Indeed, the police never tested the apple for the presence of cyanide (emphasis added).
Although historians have painted Turing as “an unhappy young man who committed suicide … [t]he exact circumstances of Turing’s death will probably always be unclear,” Professor Copeland told the BBC.
In 2013, the Queen granted Turing a posthumous pardon.
Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.
In 2019, the Bank of England announced that Turing would the face of its 50-pound note. It was released on the anniversary of his birth (23 June 1912 – 07 June 1954).
Updated to correct age in headline
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