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Alan Turing

By neilb@uk ·
I've just watched a drama on the BBC about the life of Alan Turing. Turing, if anyone can claim this, was the inventor of the digital computer. Turing addressed the problem of how to reduce any formula to a set of simple instructions which could be used by a machine to mimic the logic performed by the human brain. Turing?s solution was to use the binary system to represent both numbers and logical operations, which could be fed, via punched tape or some other medium, into a mechanical device which he called the 'Universal Turing Machine'. He went over to the USA and conducted a large amount of this work at Princeton where he was awarded a PhD in Logic.

He returned to Britain during WWII, when he was one of the main members of the group that decoded messages passed between the German military command and the front line encoded by the Enigma machine. Turing was instrumental in decoding the Enigma - using a machine of his own design called the 'Bombe'. Amongst other things, this enabled the position of German U-boats in the North Atlantic to be predicted, thereby allowing allied convoys to avoid them. I've no idea how many lives this saved but it must have been a lot.

He was awarded an OBE in 1946.

After the war, he continued to develop his ideas on computing, and at Manchester University in 1948 helped to set up what was probably the world?s first successful prototype computer.

Turing was gay but neither flaunted nor made any secret of it. While working in Manchester he started an affair with a young man he met at a gay venue. A friend of the young man burgled Turing?s house one night, and in the subsequent police investigation Turing naively spoke of having had sexual relations with the burglar?s friend. Sex between men, even in private, was still a criminal offence in Britain in the 1950?s. Turing was not sent to prison but he suffered the humiliation of having the details of his private life exposed in the newspapers, and was forced to undergo oestrogen hormone treatment as a 'cure' for his homosexual urges. All this treatment did was trigger depression. It was probably a combination of this depression, the stress of public exposure and the loss of his security clearance which led him to take his own life ? by eating an apple laced with cyanide ? in 1954. He was 41.

I don't really know why I'm posting this but I just felt so damn sorry for the treatment that this man got in my country and I'm just wondering what he might have achieved for all of us if he'd lived to 81.

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by brisbean In reply to Alan Turing

The man was indeed a genius.

The only memorial to him, is the one in Canal Street in Manchester.

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by it3 In reply to Memorial

Turing's name will remain forever as that given to the standard test of human/machine interaction. At least all we geeks will remember him.

It's been said that the respect of one's peers is the best memorial <cheapshot>pity Bill Gates forgot this <g></cheapshot>

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Best , perhaps

by noyoki In reply to Memorials...

But not the richest. Lol.

Choosing between cash (and LOTS of it!) vs respect... they both will be remembered... and Gates will have the memory of 500x more people than Turing...

(even if the former couldnt tell the diff between a keyboard and a mouse...)

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by it3 In reply to Best , perhaps

<quote>(even if the former couldnt tell the diff between a keyboard and a mouse...)

hmmm, as neither existed in their current form at the time of his death, Alan T probably couldn't either

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Okay fine...

by noyoki In reply to

The difference between a mouse and a rat.

(in quite a few connotations... lol.)

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Turing will be remembered forever

by jmgarvin In reply to Alan Turing

Alan Turing, was perhaps one of the brightest men of our time. While his treatment was pathetic, he is a hero in the computer science world.

Without him, we wouldn't be able to explain simplicity and functionality in such easy terms.

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But for a minor change in circumstances

by DMambo In reply to Alan Turing

this man probably could have been one of the richest, most respected men in the world. Had he referred to a "friend" rather than giving details, there most likely would not have been an investigation of his personal life. Seems to me that his crime was what he took away from the world by killing himself. Too bad our attitudes weren't about 30 years more developed.

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Where would the world be...

by noyoki In reply to But for a minor change in ...

I once heard a quote: "Where would the world be if we would only stop condemning and/or killing the geniuses".

How many people like Alan Turing were 'on to something', only to get beaten down by the masses that couldn't (and more importantly *wouldn't*) understand...

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Probably not among the Richest ...

by jevans4949 In reply to But for a minor change in ...

From what one reads, he was principally an academic; its questionable whether he would have had the commercial acumen to be a Bill Gates prototype. Few techies of that era did; Tommy Flowers, the man who did all electronics design, worked for the British Post Office, and got a bonus from the government of about ?75k, many years later. The same was probably true of the US pioneers. Remember that building computers at that time cost big bucks; the machines were made in the main by major office equipment manufacturers (on both sides of the pond).

The tragedy was that at the end of WW2 the British government scrapped all the kit and destroyed all the paperwork; had they made the research commercially available, the computer industry could probably have saved a few man-years work.

Worth considering that if his sexual preference had been for children he would be in the same boat today ...

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by MirrorMirror In reply to Alan Turing

There is a fiction book written by Neal Stephenson named "Cryptonomicon" that has Alan Turing as a character in it. I read it recently and it was pretty good but a little hard to follow. You might find it interesting.

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