We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Alan Turing.
His seemingly simple concept of the Turing machine lay the groundwork for the computing industry. Were it not for Turing’s pioneering work, we would have no computers, at least not the ones we know and use every day. No internet, no mobile phones, none of the apps and services which many of us rely on for our work, and which we use in every aspect of our lives.
I wouldn’t be writing this post on my laptop, and my company would not be building web shops and business applications for our customers.
As if that weren’t enough, Turing also devised the famous Turing test as a means to discern humans from AI.
And as if all of that was not enough, Turing played a key role in cracking the German Enigma machine. Building upon previous deciphering work done by their Polish colleagues, British cryptologists were able to decipher Nazi military communications. By one estimate, their work shortened World War II by two years and saved fourteen million lives.
All of this was not enough, however, to spare Turing from punishment by Her Majesty’s government. Being gay was a criminal offense at the time, and Turing accepted chemical castration in 1952. as a punishment replacing prison. Not long afterward, in 1954., he died of cyanide poisoning. It is widely considered, although never definitely proven, that one of the greatest mathematicians in history took his own life.
Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister at the time, issued a public apology in 2009. for the way Turing was mistreated, following several public campaigns and online petitions. Four years later, in 2013., he was granted a royal pardon.
A great source for those wishing to learn more about Turing is Andrew Hodges’ excellent biography, first published in 1983: “Alan Turing – The Enigma”.