Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2012 Alan Turing Year

On June 23, 2012, it will be 100 years ago that Alan Turing was born in London. He played a vital role in the development of the modern computer, was an ace codebreaker and designer of the Turing bombe that broke encrypted German messages during the Second World War.

Turing went to study at King's College, Cambridge where he graduated in 1934 with first-class honours in Mathematics. From 1936 to 1938 he studied at Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. He studied pure mathematical work, but also cryptology and he built an electro-mechanical binary multiplier. In 1938 he obtained his Ph.D. from Princeton. After Princeton he also started to work part-time with the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS), the infamous British WWII codebreakers.

During the war he was the lead man on breaking German military message traffic. He designed the Turing bombe (later enhanced by Gordon Welchman), a device to crack Enigma messages by searching the right settings for a given piece of ciphertext and its presumed related plaintext. He also developed a Bayesian statistical technique to assist in breaking the German naval Enigma. The intelligence profit, gained from his code breaking successes, were a most vital advantage that ensured Allied victory in WWII.

After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) and presented a paper which was the first detailed design of a stored-program computer. In 1949 he became deputy director of the computing laboratory at the University of Manchester, and worked on software for the Manchester Mk1, one of the earliest stored-program computers. He continued to contribute to early computer development, mathematics and artificial intelligence.

Being homosexual, Turing was convicted in 1952 for alleged misconduct (homosexuality was not allowed by the law) and was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment. Turing's conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, depriving him of his cryptographic consultancy work for GCHQ. On 8 June 1954, Alan Turing committed suicide by eating a cyanide poisoned apple. The man who saved countless lives with his code breaking during WWII and founder of modern computer science was let down by his country.

On 10 September 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement describing Turing's treatment as appalling: "Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. 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 ... So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better".

More information about the coming events to celebrate the Turing Year are found on the Alan Turing Year website. On this website you will also find a list of excellent resources regarding Alan Turing and his work.


computer information said...

Thank you for sharing this information, which were unknown.
A great man has been treated badly which is no more an offense

Muthu Pearl said...

Alan Turing is a great Computer Scientist and Thank you for sharing this information, which were unknown