Alan Turing – Remembering the life of a genius [23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954]

“A new inquiry is long overdue, even if only to dispel any doubts about the true cause of his death—including speculation that he was murdered by the security services (or others). I think murder by state agents is unlikely. There is no known evidence pointing to any such act. However, it is a major failing that this possibility has never been considered or investigated.”

 Peter Tatchell — Human Rights advocate

Alan Turing was a mathematician, cryptographer and pioneer of computer science who possessed one of the greatest brains of the 20th century. His life was one of secret triumphs shadowed by public tragedy. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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Alan Mathison Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist.

He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre that produced Ultra intelligence. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic, and in so doing helped win the war.

Counterfactual history is difficult with respect to the effect Ultra intelligence had on the length of the war, but at the upper end it has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over fourteen million lives. [Wikipedia]

Alan Turing’s Crisis

Andrew Hodges wrote a nice overview of Alan Turing’s life and work.

Alan Turing was arrested and came to trial on 31 March 1952, after the police learned of his sexual relationship with a young Manchester man. He made no serious denial or defence, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of Manchester engineering. Rather than go to prison he accepted, for the period of a year, injections of oestrogen intended to neutralise his libido.

His work on the morphogenetic theory continued. He developed his theory of pattern formation out of instability into the realm of spherical objects, such as the Radiolaria, and also on the cylinder, as a model of plant stems. He set as a particular goal the explanation for the appearance of the Fibonacci numbers in the leaf patterns of plants — most noticeable in the close-packed spirals of sunflower heads and fir cones.

Besides this he refreshed his youthful interest in quantum physics, studying the problem of wave-function reduction in quantum mechanics, with a hint that he was considering a non-linear mechanism for it. He took a new interest in the representation of elementary particles by spinors, and in relativity theory.

A factor in his life unknown to most around him was that he had also continued to work for GCHQ, the post-war successor to Bletchley Park, on the basis of a personal connection with Alexander, now its director.

But since 1948, the conditions of the Cold War, and the alliance with the United States, meant that known homosexuals had become ineligible for security clearance. Turing, now therefore excluded, spoke bitterly of this to his onetime wartime colleague, now MI6 engineer Donald Bayley, but to no other personal friends.

State security also seems the likely cause of what he described as another intense crisis in March 1953, involving police searching for a visiting Norwegian who had come to see him.

Concern over the foreign contacts of one acquainted with state secrets was understandable, and his holiday in Greece in 1953 could not have been calculated to calm the nerves of security officers.

Although unable to tell his friends about questions of official secrecy, in other ways he actively sought much greater intimacy of expression with them and with a Jungian therapist.

Eccentric, solitary, gloomy, vivacious, resigned, angry, eager, dissatisfied — these had always been his ever-varying characteristics, and despite the strength that he showed the world in coping with outrageous fortune, no-one could safely have predicted his future course.

He was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed.

His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.

[Alan Turing — a short biography by Andrew Hodges]

The 2017 Alan Turing law

In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.

The Alan Turing law is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardons men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

Alan Turing – Celebrating the life of a genius

REFERENCES

Alan Turing — a short biography by Andrew Hodges

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Alan Turing – Remembering the life of a genius [23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954]

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2 Responses to Alan Turing – Remembering the life of a genius [23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954]

  1. Dave Lawton says:

    Have you seen this by Heathcote Williams ? It was performed a few years ago at GCHQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qRcCiJp8XA

    Like

  2. mohandeer says:

    Reblogged this on Worldtruth and commented:
    I remember the film about his life in which Derek Jacobi played the part of Turing but the science and Turing’s genius were glossed over to a great extent. Did Turing take his own life? Possibly, but we will never know for sure.

    Like

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