Alan Turing was a pioneering English computer scientist, mathematician, logician,cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist. He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer.
Learn some facts about him here!
1. Alan Mathison Turing was born 23 June 1912 in Maida Vale, London.
2. At the time of his birth, his father, Julius Mathison Turing (1873–1947), was on leave from his position with the Indian Civil Service (ICS) at Chhatrapur, Bihar and Orissa Province, in British India.
3. Turing’s father was the son of a clergyman, the Rev. John Robert Turing, from a Scottish family of merchants that had been based in the Netherlands and included abaronet.
4. Turing’s mother, Julius’ wife, was Ethel Sara, daughter of Edward Waller Stoney, chief engineer of the Madras Railways.
5. The Stoneys were a Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry family from both County Tipperary and County Longford, while Ethel herself had spent much of her childhood in County Clare.
6. Julius’ work with the ICS brought the family to British India, where his grandfather had been a general in the Bengal Army.
7. Turing’s father’s civil service commission was still active and during Turing’s childhood years Turing’s parents travelled between Hastings in England and India, leaving their two sons to stay with a retired Army couple.
8. At Hastings, Turing stayed at Baston Lodge, Upper Maze Hill, St Leonards-on-Sea, now marked with a blue plaque.
9. Turing’s parents enrolled him at St Michael’s, a day school at 20 Charles Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, at the age of six.
10. The headmistress recognised his talent early on, as did many of his subsequent educators. In 1926, at the age of 13, he went on to Sherborne School, an independent school in the market town of Sherborne in Dorset.
11. Turing’s natural inclination towards mathematics and science did not earn him respect from some of the teachers at Sherborne, whose definition of education placed more emphasis on the classics.
12. His headmaster wrote to his parents: “I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school”.
13. In 1928, aged 16, Turing encountered Albert Einstein’s work; not only did he grasp it, but it is possible that he managed to deduce Einstein’s questioning of Newton’s laws of motion from a text in which this was never made explicit.
14. At Sherborne, Turing formed a significant friendship with fellow pupil Christopher Morcom, who has been described as Turing’s “first love”.
15. Their relationship provided inspiration in Turing’s future endeavours, but it was cut short by Morcom’s death, in February 1930, from complications of bovine tuberculosis, contracted after drinking infected cow’s milk some years previously.
16. The event caused Turing great sorrow. He coped with his grief by working that much harder on the topics of science and mathematics that he had shared with Morcom.
17. Some have speculated that Morcom’s death was the cause of Turing’s atheism and materialism, but this seems unlikely.
18. Turing studied as an undergraduate from 1931 to 1934 at King’s College, Cambridge, whence he gained first-class honours in mathematics.
19. During the Second World War, Turing was a leading participant in the breaking of German ciphers at Bletchley Park.
20. The historian and wartime codebreaker Asa Briggs has said, “You needed exceptional talent, you needed genius at Bletchley and Turing’s was that genius.”
21. From September 1938, Turing had been working part-time with the GC&CS, the British code breaking organisation. He concentrated on cryptanalysis of the Enigma with Dilly Knox, a senior GC&CS codebreaker.
22. By decrypting the Nazi Encryption machine “Enigma”, he affected the outcome of World War 2, ending it at least a few years earlier, since the Allies were always aware of the German army’s movements.
23. He embodied some values of the Hippie movement. wasn’t uncommon to see Turing dressed rather shabbily, with bitten nails and without a tie, he said. With his youthful face, he was often mistaken for an undergraduate even in his 30s.
24. In 1936, he developed the idea for the Universal Turing Machine, the basis for the first computer. And he developed a test for artificial intelligence in 1950, which is still used today.
25. Among engineers it is known as the Turing test.
26. He developed a new field of biology out of his fascination with daisies.
27. He had a bit of a stammer.
28. He didn’t keep his sexuality a secret among friends. The laws at the time prevented Turing from being openly gay, but he never kept his sexuality secret either.
29. He was open with his social circles at Kings College in Cambridge, which was “an oasis of acceptance” at the time, Hodges said.
30. Many people would have clung to that oasis, he said, but Turing branched out to continue his work.
31. In 1952, he was arrested and charged with “indecency” after a brief relationship with another man. Defiant, he did not deny the charges.
32. He refused to let a punishment of chemical castration stop him from working. The punishment for homosexuality was chemical castration, a series of hormone injections that left Turing impotent.
33. It also caused gynecomastia, giving him breasts. But Turing refused to let the treatment sway him from his work, keeping up his lively spirit.
34. Sinking into deep depression, the 41-year-old Turing committed suicide on 8 June 1954.
35. Next to his body was a half-eaten apple.
36. As Turing was a massive fan of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, many still believe the apple was laced with cyanide and that his method of suicide was a tribute to the Disney film.
37. Following an online petition campaign in 2013, Turing was given a royal pardon for his conviction, 61 years after his shameful arrest. Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised in 2009 for the “appalling” treatment Turing endured.
38. Turing was voted the 21st greatest Briton of all time.
39. Universities around the world have facilities dedicated to Turing.
40. It is often mistaken that the iconic image of Apple logo, with the apple being half eaten, is homage to Alan Turing.
41. According to Stephen Fry, although Steve Jobs also confirmed that it wasn’t an intentional reference to Turing, he added “God, we wish it were.”
42. Turing’s life has been acted out many times. The Imitation Game is not the first time that the work and legacy of Turing have been portrayed on film. In fact there have been several other portrayals of the great man.
43. In the 1980s a play featuring Derek Jacobi called Breaking the Code ran in London and then Broadway in New York, while in 1996 a television movie, also featuring Jacobi, was shown on the BBC, and was nominated for two BAFTA awards.
44. There are also scores of books on Turing covering many aspects of his life.