Sunday, June 24, 2012

Remembering Genius: Alan Turing

Turing is undeniable genius of the 20th century. A mathematician, cryptologist, and early master of the computer sciences, he also showed himself a hero of the Allied Forces during World War II.

Born in 1912, on June 23rd, he went on to go to Cambridge and Princeton getting a top education. During this time he created the Turing Machine, which was a "hypothetical device representing a computing machine." 

Already in '38 Turing went to work with his nation's cryptanalytic department, outside his main job. When the war officially started he went to work for the U.K. full time. He was a leading decipher of German codes and helped build Bombe to help reveal Axis secrets. By the war's end they were decoding 84,000 messages a month. His, and his colleagues, work led to him being made an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Along with his code work, and the creation of Bombe, Turing developed an amazing early computational device, ACE, which showed a good deal of promise. But it was not completed to his schematics, simplified, and therefor behind other designs that were built.

In 1950 wrote a paper in which he introduced the idea of the Turing Test. It is a test of a machine and it's capacity to reflect intelligence. If you've seen it in popular culture, like in Blade Runner, the concept plays out as an attempt to see if a machine can act human. The test continues to be applied, and debated, to this day. During this time he was made a member of the Royal Society.

As he continued to chase new ideas in computer science, in 1952, Turing was arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime of being a homosexual. Well through the 20th century this remained a crime in England (In the U.S. the Supreme Court was still striking down these laws in 2003.). To avoid actual prison time, Turing was chemically castrated. Along with this, as a homosexual, he had his well deserved security clearance revoked and cut off from the advance work of his field. Two years later, he was dead. It was ruled suicide then, but there is an argument for it being an accident arriving from his research

Today we remember a genius and hero, ostracisized and humiliated by a close minded society. After such duty and dedication, such brilliance and output, he was discarded by his government. Only in 2009 did the government admit to the wrong.

Let's be sure no one else suffers a similar fate in the U.K. or the U.S. in the 21st century, shall me?

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