Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a British mathematician who massively contributed to modern computer science and cryptography. Though perhaps not the father of computer science, he is frequently credited for being the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
The Turing Machine
In the 1930s, Turing proposed the concept of a "Universal Turing Machine". Turing had first proposed that the operations needed to calculate any formula could be broken down into a base set of instructions (or primitive recursive functions) that could, in principle, be followed by a machine: the "Turing Machine". Once fully formalized, the calculations needed to derive the instructions themselves were capable of being run by a Turing Machine. The looped logic allowed the conception of a Turing Machine that could create its own instruction and, in principle, run a huge variety of calculations. Turing then used the concept of Universal Turing Machine to prove the undecidability of the halting problem.
During World War II Turing was assigned to the codebreaking unit at Bletchley Park, where he worked on the decoding of the German's Enigma machine. Turing and his colleagues played a significant role in the Allied victory in WWII, allowing Allied forces access to German communication networks throughout much of the war.
In his 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", Turing proposed a test (apparently heavily influenced by Logical Positivism) for establishing whether a computer could think, which he called the Imitation Game. This test, now known as the Turing test, is still widely considered to be the best test of whether a machine exhibits characteristics of artificial intelligence.
Turnig was found dead by his housekeeper on June 8, 1954. The cause of death after an autopsy was determined to be cyanide poisoning; however, there was also a half eaten apple beside the bed. The apple was not tested for traces of cyanide. Turing's death has been cause for much speculation, as parts of it seem accidental; for instance, the poisoning seems more consistent with inhilation than ingestion, leading some to believe that he accidentally inhaled fumes while sleeping from an aparatus of his set up in the spare room. Some speculate that Turing let the accidental nature of his death happen on purpose, as a way to give his mother plausible deniability.
On September 10, 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement to "celebrate" Turing's "contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship" and to acknowledge that his prosecution was "appalling" and "utterly unfair". "I am pleased," Brown stated, "to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him."
- Turing test
- Computing Machinery and Intelligence
- Oddballs and Eccentrics. Shaw, Karl. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 2004.
- The Biography of Alan Turing, turing.org
- Steven Homer, Alan L. Selman: Computability and Complexity Theory, p. 35
- The housekeeper found him the morning after he had died
- Hodges, Andrew (1983). Alan Turing : the enigma. London: Burnett Books. ISBN 0-09-152130-0.
- Pease, Roland (23 June 2012). "Alan Turing: Inquest's suicide verdict 'not supportable'". BBC News.