Alan Turing

Image credit:

Alan Mathison Turing (1923-1954) was an English mathematician, logician, and informatician who, during World War II, cracked the enigma of the secret code of the Nazis. Moreover, he created one of the first computers that later led to the ones we know nowadays. He made computers programmable, so this meant they could be used for several things by changing the program.

In his genius, he embraced the first visions of modern computing and gave birth to what we now call “artificial intelligence.” He was one of the most influential code breakers of World War II, his cryptology yielded intelligence believed to have hastened the Allied victory.

In his work Entscheidungsproblem, which means an effective method for solving problems, he invented the universal Turing machine, which involved the logical principles of the digital computer.

But, at his death several years later, much of his secretive wartime accomplishments remained classified, far from public view in a nation seized by the security concerns of the Cold War. Instead, by the narrow standards of his day, his reputation was sullied.

Alan’s life was very short, as his sexual orientation was not accepted at the time. He was a homosexual and when authorities found out, they took him to a Clinique where he went under chemical castration, in order to make him “reconsider”. He knew that was not possible, even though he tried. For this reason, he was denied entrance to Bletchley Park, a place he had been working during World War II. It is said he committed suicide one year after he left the Clinique. 

On June 7, 1954, the British mathematician who has since been acknowledged as one the most innovative and powerful thinkers of the 20th century — sometimes called the progenitor of modern computing — died as a criminal, having been convicted under Victorian laws as a homosexual and forced to endure chemical castration. Britain didn’t take its first steps toward decriminalizing homosexuality until 1967. Only in 2009 did the government apologise for his treatment.

“We’re sorry — you deserved so much better,” said Gordon Brown, then the prime minister. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was, under homophobic laws were treated terribly.”

To this day Turing is recognized in his own country and among a broad society of scientists as a pillar of achievement who had fused brilliance and eccentricity, had moved comfortably in the abstruse realms of mathematics and cryptography but awkwardly in social settings, and had been brought low by the hostile society into which he was born.

Since 1966 there has been the ACM A. M. Turing Award, which is an annual prize given by the Association For Computing Machinery “for contributions of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field”. It is the highest distinction in computer science, and it is recognized as the Nobel Prize in Computing. 


Watch the movie about him: