Prodigy, Mathematician, Pioneer, War Hero - These are just a few designations given to Alan Turing. Born in the UK in 1912, Turing quickly proved that he was extraordinarily gifted in the areas of mathematics and science. So much so that Turing received a scholarship to King’s College Cambridge, where he would later solve Hilbert’s Decision Problem, one of the 20th century’s most important unsolved mathematical challenges. During his process, Turning hypothesized a machine, “The Imagined Turning Machine Model” that would become a cornerstone of computer science, one of the most influential mathematical abstractions to date. He was only 22 years old.
It was through his work that he would later join the military to work as a code breaker during WW2. Turing is credited with inventing the “Bombe”, a machine used to break Nazi codes created by a lamp-board based cipher machine. These German typewriter-esque cipher machines were capable of 150 million million million (that’s a real number) daily settings. Turing’s “Bombe” could crack these codes in about 15 minutes when operated at top efficiency. He would be awarded the Officer of the British Empire following his military service, and he is the subject of the movie The Imitation Game 2014 starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Because of his work in the areas of mathematics and science, he is considered one of the fathers of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Sadly, Turing’s personal life did not garner him the same praise and positive attention that his intellect and public service did. Turing lived during a time when homosexuality was illegal. In 1952, he was tried and convicted for having a homosexual relationship with Arnold Murray. As part of his sentencing, Turing underwent chemical castration, and 2 years following his conviction he took his own life. The UK government officially and publicly pardoned Turing in 2013, leading to legislation pardoning of all gay men convicted under indecency laws. Turing was also named “The Greatest Person of the 20th Century” by BBC in 2019.