For many years, Alan Turing was one of the lesser-known heroes of World War II. Born in 1912, he rose to prominence at Cambridge in the early 1930’s where he was eventually elected a fellow of the King’s College. Much of his work on computability, or whether or not a problem can be solved and the most effective methods of going about it if it can, is now considered 101-level stuff in comp.sci programs around the world. At the time, however, this work was revolutionary. Turing is best known for the hypothetical Turing Machine, a computing device unique in its ability of backing up steps in the problem and taking other routes. During World War II, Turing and a team of Polish mathematicians were instrumental in breaking the cryptosystem used by the Axis codenamed ENIGMA. After the Second World War Turing’s work branched out into what we now know as neural networks and general machine intelligence, or artificial intelligence. In the year 1952 Turing was arrested because homosexuality was a punishable crime at the time and given the choice of either going to prison or taking female hormones for the rest of his life to suppress his libido.
On 7 June 1954 Turing committed suicide.
Today, the Prime Minister of England issued a formal apology to Turing’s memory for the manner in which he was treated.. PM Gordon Brown of Number 10 Downing Street went on the record as saying, quote, “While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him.”
Here’s to you, Alan. It’s about time. I’m going to hoist one to you tonight.