This Saturday June 23 marks the hundredth anniversary of Alan Turing's birth. Though the scientist and mathematician passed away over half a century ago, he is still remembered today for his contributions to cryptography and for his pioneering work in computer science.
Born 1912 in Maida Vale, London, it was apparent from a young age that Turing possessed a gift for mathematics and the prodigious student earned a fellowship at King's College, Cambridge at the age of 22. An eccentric who had a fondness for running marathons, Turing detailed his "Universal Turing Machine" (a hypothetical device designed to aid computer theory) in 1936 and spent additional time studying at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, before arriving back in Britain to join the Allied war effort during World War Two.
In the course of his time at the now legendary Bletchley Park, Turing worked on an electromechanical device designed to facilitate the deciphering of messages sent using the formidable German Enigma cypher machines. Named the "bombe" in deference to its predecessor, the Bomba Kryptologiczna which was created by the Polish Cipher Bureau, Turing's own device improved on the Polish machine and through its various iterations became one of the premier code breaking weapons in the armory of the Allies, allowing the deciphering of many vital messages sent by Axis powers via the German Enigma cypher machines.
Following the close of the war, the latter years of Turing's life saw him focus on computer science and he was made Deputy Director of Manchester University's Computing Laboratory, where Turing produced works related to artificial intelligence which are still influential today, such as the Turing test. Alan Turing remains a towering figure over computing and technology and is often cited as the father of modern computing.
Despite Turing’s commendable efforts for his country, the British authorities prosecuted the scientist for "gross indecency" on account of a homosexual relationship he was involved in, illegal in the UK at the time. On June 8 1954, two years after choosing to undergo a chemical castration as an alternative to prison, Turing was found dead by a cleaner following an apparent suicide with the use of cyanide. He was 41 years old.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more