Alan Turing was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He is widely regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Turing worked at Britain’s code-breaking centre Bletchley Park during World War II and was the primary person responsible for breaking the German Enigma code which proved to be a critical factor in the war. Here are 10 interesting facts about Alan Turing.
#1 His father worked for the Indian Civil Service
Alan Turing was born in Maida Vale, London on June 23, 1912. The site of his birth is commemorated by a blue plaque. His father worked for the Indian Civil Service (ICS). His parents had to travel between England and India often and they left Turing and his elder brother in the care of a retired Army couple.
#2 He showed early signs of his genius
Turing showed remarkable ability in Mathematics and Science at an early age. At the age of 14 he could solve advanced problems without having even studied elementary calculus. Aged 16, he came across Albert Einstein’s work. Turing not only grasped his work but also extrapolated Einstein’s questioning of Newton’s laws of motion from a text in which this was never made explicit.
#3 Alan Turing laid the central concept of modern computers
In 1936 Turing published a paper in which he came up with the idea of the Universal Turing machine which was capable of computing anything that was computable. Von Neumann acknowledged that the central concept of the modern computer was due to this paper. In 1950 Turing proposed an experiment to find out if a machine was “intelligent”. The idea was that a computer could be said to “think” if a human interrogator could not tell it apart, through conversation, from a human being. The test is now called the Turing test.
#4 Turing broke the German Enigma Code during the Second World War
On 4 September 1939, the day after the UK declared war on Germany, Turing reported to Bletchley Park, the wartime station of Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS). During World War II he was the principal man responsible for breaking the Enigma code used by the Germans. It is estimated that his bombe device shortened the war in Europe by two to four years. The Academy Award winning 2014 film The Imitation Game is primarily based on Alan Turing’s work at Bletchley Park.
#5 He was known for his eccentricities
Alan Turing had a reputation for eccentricities. During his time at Bletchley Park he used to chain his mug at work to a radiator to prevent it from being stolen. Also his bicycle had a faulty chain which came off at regular intervals. Instead of mending it, Alan used to count his pedal strokes and get off the bicycle to adjust the chain before it was due to come off.
#6 Alan Turing had to undergo chemical castration because he was gay
In 1952, during an investigation, Alan Turing admitted that he had sexual relationship with Arnold Murray. At that time homosexual acts were illegal in The United Kingdom and both were subsequently charged with gross indecency. On March 31, 1952 Turing was convicted and given a choice between imprisonment and probation, on the condition that he underwent hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido (chemical castration). Turing accepted the latter. The treatment, which went on for a year, rendered Turing impotent and caused gynecomastia.
#7 British PM apologized for treating Turing unfairly during his time
In 2009, Liberal Democrat MP, John Graham-Cumming started an online petition calling for an official apology from the government for prosecuting Alan Turing as a homosexual. The petition received thousands of signatures. On September 10, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the then government and described the treatment given to Turing as “utterly unfair”.
#8 Whether he committed suicide is debated
On June 8, 1954 Alan Turing was found dead by his cleaner. The cause of his death was cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple was found besides his bed. Although the apple was never tested for cyanide, it is speculated that it was the means through which Alan committed suicide. Turing showed no sign of despondency before his death and several people including Turing’s mother believe that he consumed cyanide by accident and that it was not a case of suicide.
#9 The Apple logo is not related to Turing though Jobs wished it was
It is often mistaken that the iconic image of Apple logo, with the apple being half eaten, is homage to Alan Turing. The man responsible for the design has said that the apple was bitten just to make sure people didn’t mistake it for a cherry. According to Stephen Fry, although Steve Jobs also confirmed that it wasn’t an intentional reference to Turing, he added “God, we wish it were.”
#10 TIME named Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the Century
Since 1966, the Turing Award is given annually for technical or theoretical contributions to the computing community. It is widely considered as the equivalent of Nobel Prize in the computing world. In 1999, Time Magazine named Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. In 2002, Turing was ranked twenty-first on the BBC nationwide poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. On 23 June 2001, a statue of Alan Turing was unveiled in Sackville Park, Manchester. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple – a symbol which represents forbidden love, the object that inspired Newton’s theory of gravitation and the assumed means by which Turing killed himself.