Alan Turing: An Outcast Genius

Early life and education

Alan Mathison Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in London, England. He exhibited exceptional intellectual abilities from a young age and attended Sherborne School, a prestigious private institution. Turing’s academic prowess led him to the University of Cambridge, where he studied mathematics starting in 1931. After completing his undergraduate degree in 1934, he was elected to a fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, in recognition of his research in probability theory.


In 1936, Turing published his seminal paper, “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” This work, recommended for publication by the renowned American mathematician Alonzo Church, addressed the fundamental mathematical problem of determining which mathematical statements are provable within a given formal system. Turing and Church independently proved that the Entscheidungsproblem has no resolution, establishing the limits of what a machine can compute.

During his investigation of the Entscheidungsproblem, Turing invented the concept of the universal Turing machine. This abstract computing machine encompassed the fundamental principles of digital computers and played a pivotal role in the development of computer science.

The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.


Code breaking and World War II

With the outbreak of World War II, Turing’s expertise in mathematics and logic led him to join the Government Code and Cypher School. Turing’s cryptographic work took place at Bletchley Park, the British government’s wartime headquarters. His primary task was to decipher the Enigma code used by the German military to encrypt their messages.

Working alongside a team of brilliant mathematicians and code-breakers, Turing developed the Bombe, a machine capable of rapidly cycling through potential Enigma settings to identify the correct key. The efforts of Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park played a crucial role in Allied victory, as they were able to intercept and decipher German military communications, providing valuable intelligence. Thanks to Alan Turing, it is estimated that war was shortened at least 2 years, thereby saving millions of lives.

Birth of AI

After the war, Turing continued his work in the emerging field of computer science. He proposed the concept of a “computing machine” that could imitate human intelligence, introducing the famous Turing test. According to this test, a machine is intelligent if it could successfully deceive a human questioner into believing it was a human.

Turing’s ideas about artificial intelligence and the potential of machines to exhibit human-like behavior were groundbreaking at the time. His work laid the foundation for the development of AI and continues to inspire researchers in the field.

Persecution and tragic end

Despite his immense contributions to the war effort and his groundbreaking work in computer science, Turing’s personal life was marked by tragedy and persecution. In 1952, the Court convicted Turing with “gross indecency” due to his homosexuality, which was then a criminal offense in the UK at that time.

Rather than facing imprisonment, Turing chose to undergo hormonal treatment, commonly known as chemical castration. The treatment had severe physical and emotional effects on Turing, leading to the revocation of his security clearance and further marginalization.

On June 7, 1954, at the age of 41, Alan Turing tragically took his own life by consuming a cyanide-laced apple. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a subject of speculation and debate.

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