Who was he anyway?

Piece by Roxanne Daniels – Rhodes student and resident FabMags intern 😉 

turing_bombe

This is a recreation of the Bombe (a nickname for the machine Allan Turing created that paved the way for the creation of computers). Photo source: http://www.radiolab.org/story/193037-turing-problem/

23 June, 191 days till the end of the year. So what? Well today is the day that Allan Turing was born on 103 years ago. Why should I care if some random man was born over a century ago? Well, he paved the way for you to be reading this very article on the computing device you’re currently using.

Biographer Andrew Hodges claims that Turing was fostered in several English homes throughout his childhood due to his parents being exiled to India. In those homes, expression, originality and discovery was not encouraged (that sounds a lot like the education my own mother experienced when she was growing up 30 to 40 years ago). It is this then that surprises us all, including his peers. He certainly expressed much originality and discovered great technological advances.

Turing kept much to himself over the years and dedicated himself to his scientific and mathematical work. He was often very nearly on the brink of publishing a great paper or being recognised for his work, but seemed to miss the mark quite a few times, with competitors over-taking. It is only very recently that he has been recognised to have contributed greatly to the world of scientific discovery.

With The Imitation Game, the film based on his work done for the World War II, he has finally become world recognised. The film focusses on his ground-breaking invention of a code cracking machine that assisted in ending the war possibly two years early with a victory over the Germans. The machine he created was adapted and used again, it became known as the Turing Machine which was a step towards creating computers.

enigma machine

One of the Enigma machines on display in Block B of Bletchley Part National Codes Centre where Turing worked to crack the code with his own machine. Photo source: http://www.radiolab.org/story/193037-turing-problem/

Turing had to keep Enigma a secret, in case the British needed to use the machine again and he was never recognised as he should have been for his life-saving work. He was unfortunately discovered to have been homosexual and was arrested. He was given the choice between prison or chemical treatment to ‘fix’ him. He chose the chemical treatment (the injection of oestrogen), but committed suicide in 1954, 15 days before his 42nd birthday.

 

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