Alan Turing

Alan Turing, the father of computing, whose birth centenary is being celebrated on June 23.
Alan Turing was a Nazi cipher breaker…

Alan Turing achieved many things before his suicide in June 1954, many of which have been written and spoken about during the run-up to the 100th anniversary of his birth on Saturday.

Turing wrote a paper in 1935 which conceptualised digital computing and algorithms and another in 1945 conceptualising the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). The 1945 paper contained the first specifications for an electronic stored-program general purpose computer, which was later built at Blighty’s National Physical Laboratory from Turing’s design.

Today, we casually toss around phrases like cloud “compute” and talk of algorithms, but until the 1950s, computers were non-electrical calculating machines using systems of switches, levers and – if you were lucky – (IBM’s infamous Hollerith) paper cards to simply automate clerical processes

Turing was also working towards a bigger concept: digital intelligence.

Computers, it seemed, were easy – it was just 10 years between his first conceptual paper in 1935 and the ACE specification in 1945. Making them think and act like people – that was the hard part.

Today, graphics acceleration is in the smartphone in your pocket. Microsoft, Mozilla and Google are juicing Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome using hardware to beat each other and produce “native” HTML5 “experiences”.

Pong is considered the first successful computer arcade and home console game – it was a simple game of televised tennis. But 20 years before, in 1950, Turing wrote what chess book author Bill Wall regarded as the first program for a game far more tactical and mentally challenging: chess.

At Bletchley, Turing was turning on to the idea of machine learning and the concept of the brain as a computer as well as its inverse: that computers could be built to act like brains. Chess, Turing thought, was just the kind of puzzle that might bring us closer to computers that can learn and think. In the 1953 book Faster than Thought, Turing wrote a chapter on digital computing as it applied to games.

Along with his chess algorithm, Turing devised the Imitation Game, better known as the Turing Test, in his Computing Machinery and Intelligence Paper. The idea was that the system would attempt to pass itself off as human to a real person. The metaphor? Chess.

Turing’s career spanned both science and technology, but it was his work in deciphering the German Enigma code that Churchill called the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the Second World War.

Alan Tur­ing died still ask­ing if the lim­its of logic were the lim­its of the human mind or if we tran­scended mere logic.

In January 1952, Turing met a man called Arnold Murray outside a cinema in Manchester. After a lunch date, Turing invited Murray to spend the weekend with him at his house, an invitation which Murray accepted although he did not show up. The pair met again in Manchester the following Monday, when Murray agreed to accompany Turing to the latter’s house. A few weeks later Murray visited Turing’s house again, and apparently spent the night there.

After Murray helped an accomplice to break into his house, Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.

Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido He accepted chemical castration via injections of stilboestrol, a synthetic oestrogen hormone.

Turing’s conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British signals intelligence agency that had evolved from GCCS in 1946. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents, because of the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.

Author: renjiveda

I'm not I

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