“… I do not see why it [a computer] should not enter any one of the fields normally covered by the human intellect, and eventually compete on equal terms. I do not think you can even draw the line about sonnets, though the comparison is perhaps a little bit unfair because a sonnet written by a machine will be better appreciated by another machine.”

– Alan Turing in an interview with the London Times, 1949

 

Alan Mathison Turing, (June 1912 – 7 June 1954), was an English mathematician,  cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. The field of computer science was perhaps founded with the publication of his paper On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (1936) in which Turing described a “Universal Machine,” the theoretical progenitor of the modern computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of both computer science and artificial intelligence as well as a major player in the Second World War.

As soon as the Second World War broke out, Turing was enlisted to serve at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret codebreaking centre.  Along with many of Britain’s leading mathematical minds, he began work on  breaking the coded created by the German Enigma machine.  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.  By midway through the War, British Intelligence was reading Axis correspondances almost as quickly as their intended recipients, themselves. Thanks to Turing and the thousands of men and women of Bletchley Park, historians estimate that the War was probably shortened by at least two years.

After the war Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted in the development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology.

Throughout his life, Turing was fairly open about his homosexuality despite the Gross Indecency Laws that were currently in effect in the United Kingdom.  While living in Manchester, Turing had an affair with a younger man which resulted in a criminal prosecution in 1952. He accepted his sentence of treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. He died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning after biting a poisoned apple.  On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.