Jun 26 2012
Alan Turing – A Genius Born Into A Society Not Ready For Him
 

Anything important about June 23rd? It’s two days after the Summer Solstice and…..er…..? Pretty insignificant right? Wrong!

June 23rd is a date that should be etched on your brain as it was the events of that day, a little over a century ago that meant you are able to read this blog.

Alan Mathison Turing was born on June 23rd 1912 and began a truly remarkable life that would earn him an OBE, FRS and universal recognition and aclaim. Although he died in 1954, aged just 42, his list of accomplishments is truly astonishing.:

Aged 16, after encountered Albert Einstein’s work; not only did he grasp it, but he extrapolated Einstein’s questioning of Newton’s laws of motion

He was influential in the development of computer science

He developed the ‘Turing Machine’ which played a significant role in the development of the modern computer and is still used today as a central object of study in the theory of computation

Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence

He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine

Turing created ‘ACE’, one of the first designs for a stored-programme computer

He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction

 

Turing achieved more in 40 years than even the most brilliant amongst us could hope to achieve in several lifetimes, yet he wasn’t heralded for his genius as he so richly deserved, he was persicuted by a society that didn’t know any better, purely because of his sexuality. Homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom in 1954 and after being convicted of gross indecency for having a relationship with another man, Turing was given the choice of chemical castration or imprionment. He chose the former and as a result of his conviction, he lost his security clearance, meaning that he couldn’t continue with the work he loved so much. Unable to cope with his punishment, he was found dead on 8th June 1954 having poisoned himself with cyanide.

Uncertainty surrounded his suicide and it wasn’t until 2009 that the government issued an apology for the way Turing was treated, but it was clearly a case of too little, too late.

Turing was an incredible man and deserved to be remembered for the astonishing things he achieved and not his sexuality, or untimely death. Hopefully society has learnt from the mistakes of the past and will never again make such an ill-advised mistake.

As we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of his birth, I urge anyone reading this to learn a bit  more about Turing and never forget that genius should always be recognised, even if it doesn’t always conform with the recognised ‘norm’

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