Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice.

June 23, 1912: Alan Turing is born.

Alan Turing was born in London to a member of the Indian Civil Service and his wife, both of whom had resided in British India shortly before the birth of their son. Turing studied at Sherborne School before moving on to King’s College at Cambridge University; from a young age, he displayed a remarkable aptitude for science and mathematics, and in 1936 he published a paper (“On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem”) in which he introduced an “a-machine” (automatic machine) that later came to be known as the Turing machine, a hypothetical computation device.

Shortly before the outbreak of war in Europe, Turing accepted a position at the Government Code and Cypher School, an intelligence agency dedicated to cryptanalysis. Turing provided much of the initial designs for the bombe decryption device (which was in turn based on Polish designs), used to crack codes enciphered by Nazi Germany’s infamous series of Enigma machines. The flood of military intelligence produced in Bletchley Park and gleaned as a result of British code breaking was codenamed “Ultra”, and was described by both historians and government officials of the time as having shortened the war, while also securing an Allied victory. For his work and contribution to the Allied war effort, Turing was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. In the few years of the postwar period prior to his suicide, Turing moved away from code breaking and worked on designing computer models; much of his work in these years also heavily influenced the field of artificial intelligence, particularly his 1950 paper “Computer Machines and Intelligence”, in which he proposed and addressed the question “can machines think?”

In 1952, Turing was charged with gross indecency on the grounds of his  homosexuality, which was at the time officially a punishable crime in the United Kingdom under the 1885 Labouchere Amendment. He chose to receive chemical castration in the form of synethetic estrogen injections, administered over the course of one year, rather than face imprisonment. In June of 1954 he was found dead, and upon post-mortem examination his cause of death was established as suicide by cyanide poisoning, although it has been suggested that his death was accidental, the result of a scientific experiment gone wrong.

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