1912-06-23 to 1954-06-07
EnglandAlan Mathison Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Despite these accomplishments, he was not fully recognised in his home country during his lifetime, due to his homosexuality, and because much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.
Turing was born in Maida Vale, London, while his father, Julius Mathison Turing (1873 – 1947), was on leave from his position with the Indian Civil Service (ICS) at Chatrapur, then in the Madras Presidency and presently in Odisha state, in India. Turing's father was the son of a clergyman, the Rev. John Robert Turing, from a Scottish family of merchants that had been based in the Netherlands and included a baronet. Turing's mother, Julius' wife, was Ethel Sara Turing (née Stoney 1881–1976), daughter of Edward Waller Stoney, chief engineer of the Madras Railways. The Stoneys were a Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry family from both County Tipperary and County Longford, while Ethel herself had spent much of her childhood in County Clare.
Between January 1922 and 1926, Turing was educated at Hazelhurst Preparatory School, an independent school in the village of Frant in Sussex ( now East Sussex). In 1926, at the age of 13, he went on to Sherborne School, a boarding independent school in the market town of Sherborne in Dorset. The first day of term coincided with the 1926 General Strike in Britain, but he was so determined to attend, that he rode his bicycle unaccompanied 60 miles (97 km) from Southampton to Sherborne, stopping overnight at an inn.
At Sherborne, Turing formed a significant friendship with fellow pupil Christopher Morcom (1911 – 1930), who has been described as Turing's "first love". Their relationship provided inspiration in Turing's future endeavors, but it was cut short by Morcom's death, in February 1930, from complications of bovine tuberculosis, contracted after drinking infected cow's milk some years previously.
After Sherborne, Turing studied as an undergraduate from 1931 to 1934 at King's College, Cambridge, where he was awarded first-class honors in mathematics. In 1935, at the age of 22, he was elected a fellow of King's on the strength of a dissertation in which he proved the central limit theorem. Unknown to the committee, the theorem had already been proven, in 1922 by Jarl Waldemar Lindeberg. A blue plaque at the college was unveiled on the centenary of his birth on 23 June 2012 and is now installed at the college's Keynes Building on King's Parade.
From September 1936 to July 1938, Turing spent most of his time studying under Church at Princeton University, in the second year as a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow. In addition to his purely mathematical work, he studied cryptology and also built three of four stages of an electro-mechanical binary multiplier. In June 1938, he obtained his Ph.D. from the Department of Mathematics at Princeton; his dissertation, Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals, introduced the concept of ordinal logic and the notion of relative computing, where Turing machines are augmented with so-called oracles, allowing the study of problems that cannot be solved by Turing machines. John von Neumann wanted to hire him as his postdoctoral assistant, but he went back to the United Kingdom.
Turing published his paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem". It was published in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society journal in two parts, the first on 30 November and the second on 23 December. In this paper, Turing reformulated Kurt Gödel's 1931 results on the limits of proof and computation, replacing Gödel's universal arithmetic-based formal language with the formal and simple hypothetical devices that became known as Turing machines. The Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem) was originally posted by German mathematician David Hilbert in 1928. Turing proved that his "universal computing machine" would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. He went on to prove that there was no solution to the decision problem by first showing that the halting problem for Turing machines is undecidable: It is not possible to decide algorithmically whether a Turing machine will ever halt.
From September 1938, Turing had been working part-time with the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), the British codebreaking organization. He concentrated on cryptanalysis of the Enigma with Dilly Knox, a senior GC&CS codebreaker. Soon after the July 1939 Warsaw meeting at which the Polish Cipher Bureau had provided the British and French with the details of the wiring of Enigma rotors and their method of decrypting Enigma code messages, Turing and Knox started to work on a less fragile approach to the problem. The Polish method relied on an insecure indicator procedure that the Germans were likely to change, which they did in May 1940. Turing's approach was more general, using crib-based decryption for which he produced the functional specification of the bombe (an improvement of the Polish Bomba).
When Turing returned to Cambridge, he attended lectures given in 1939, by Ludwig Wittgenstein about the foundations of mathematics. The lectures have been reconstructed verbatim, including interjections from Turing and other students, from students' notes. Turing and Wittgenstein argued and disagreed, with Turing defending formalism and Wittgenstein propounding his view that mathematics does not discover any absolute truths, but rather invents them.
On 4 September 1939, the day after the UK declared war on Germany, Turing reported to Bletchley Park, the wartime station of GC&CS. Specifying the bombe was the first of five major cryptanalytical advances that Turing made during the war. The others were: deducing the indicator procedure used by the German navy; developing a statistical procedure for making much more efficient use of the bombes dubbed Banburismus; developing a procedure for working out the cam settings of the wheels of the Lorenz (Tunny) dubbed Turingery and, towards the end of the war, the development of a portable secure voice scrambler at Hanslope Park that was codenamed, Delilah.
Turing decided to tackle the particularly difficult problem of German naval Enigma "because no one else was doing anything about it and I could have it to myself". In December 1939, Turing solved the essential part of the naval indicator system, which was more complex than the indicator systems used by the other services.
Within weeks of arriving at Bletchley Park, Turing had specified an electromechanical machine called the bombe, which could break Enigma more effectively than the Polish bomba kryptologiczna, from which its name was derived. The bombe with an enhancement suggested by mathematician Gordon Welchman became one of the primary tools, and the major automated one, used to attack Enigma-enciphered messages.
In 1941, Turing proposed marriage to Hut 8 colleague Joan Clarke, a fellow mathematician and cryptanalyst, but their engagement was short-lived. After admitting his homosexuality to his fiancée, who was reportedly "unfazed" by the revelation, Turing decided that he could not go through with the marriage.
On 28 October they wrote directly to Winston Churchill explaining their difficulties, with Turing as the first-named. They emphasized how small their need was compared with the vast expenditure of men and money by the forces and compared with the level of assistance they could offer to the forces. As Andrew Hodges, biographer of Turing, later wrote, "This letter had an electric effect." Churchill wrote a memo to General Ismay, which read: "ACTION THIS DAY. Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done."
By late 1941, Turing and his fellow cryptanalysts Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander, and Stuart Milner-Barry were frustrated. Building on the work of the Poles, they had set up a good working system for decrypting Enigma signals, but their limited staff and bombes meant they could not translate all the signals. In the summer, they had considerable success, and shipping losses had fallen to under 100,000 tons a month; however, they badly needed more resources to keep abreast of German adjustments. They had tried to get more people and fund more bombes through the proper channels but had failed.
On 18 November, the chief of the secret service reported that every possible measure was being taken. The cryptographers at Bletchley Park did not know of the Prime Minister's response, but as Milner-Barry recalled, "All that we did notice was that almost from that day the rough ways began miraculously to be made smooth." More than two hundred bombes were in operation by the end of the war.
In July 1942, Turing devised a technique termed Turingery (or jokingly Turingismus) for use against the Lorenz cipher messages produced by the Germans' new Geheimschreiber (secret writer) machine. This was a teleprinter rotor cipher attachment codenamed Tunny at Bletchley Park. Turingery was a method of wheel-breaking, i.e., a procedure for working out the cam settings of Tunny's wheels. He also introduced the Tunny team to Tommy Flowers who, under the guidance of Max Newman, went on to build the Colossus computer, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer, which replaced a simpler prior machine (the Heath Robinson), and whose superior speed allowed the statistical decryption techniques to be applied usefully to the messages. Some have mistakenly said that Turing was a key figure in the design of the Colossus computer. Turingery and the statistical approach of Banburismus undoubtedly fed into the thinking about cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher, but he was not directly involved in the Colossus development.
He presented a paper on 19 February 1946, which was the first detailed design of a stored-program computer. Von Neumann's incomplete First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC had predated Turing's paper, but it was much less detailed and, according to John R. Womersley, Superintendent of the NPL Mathematics Division, it "contains a number of ideas which are Dr. Turing's own". Although ACE was a feasible design, the secrecy surrounding the wartime work at Bletchley Park led to delays in starting the project and he became disillusioned.
In late 1947 he returned to Cambridge for a sabbatical year during which he produced a seminal work on Intelligent Machinery that was not published in his lifetime. While he was at Cambridge, the Pilot ACE was being built in his absence. It executed its first program on 10 May 1950, and a number of later computers around the world owe much to it, including the English Electric DEUCE and the American Bendix G-15. The full version of Turing's ACE was not built until after his death.
In 1948, Turing was appointed Reader in the Mathematics Department at the Victoria University of Manchester. A year later, he became Deputy Director of the Computing Machine Laboratory, where he worked on software for one of the earliest stored-program computers—the Manchester Mark 1. Turing wrote the first version of the Programmer's Manual for this machine and was recruited by Ferranti as a consultant in the development of their commercialized machine, the Ferranti Mark-1.
In 1948 Turing, working with his former undergraduate colleague, D.G. Champernowne, began writing a chess program for a computer that did not yet exist. By 1950, the program was completed and dubbed the Turochamp. In 1952, he tried to implement it on a Ferranti Mark 1, but lacking enough power, the computer was unable to execute the program. Instead, Turing ran the program by flipping through the pages of the algorithm and carrying out its instructions on a chessboard, taking about half an hour per move. The game was recorded. According to Garry Kasparov, Turing's program "played a recognizable game of chess." The program lost to Turing's colleague Alick Glennie, although it is said that it won a game against Champernowne's wife, Isabel.
He turned to mathematical biology, finally publishing his masterpiece "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis" in January 1952. It is an article written in 1952 describing the way in which natural patterns such as stripes, spots and spirals may arise naturally out of a homogeneous, uniform state. The theory, which can be called a reaction-diffusion theory of morphogenesis, has served as a basic model in theoretical biology.
In January 1952, Turing was 39 when he started a relationship with Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old unemployed man. Just before Christmas, Turing was walking along Manchester's Oxford Road when he met Murray just outside the Regal Cinema and invited him to lunch. On 23 January, Turing's house was burgled. Murray told Turing that he and the burglar were acquainted, and Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation, he acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were criminal offenses in the United Kingdom at that time, and both men were charged with "gross indecency" under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Initial committal proceedings for the trial were held on 27 February during which Turing's solicitor "reserved his defense", did not argue or provide evidence against the allegations.
On 8 June 1954, Turing's housekeeper found him dead at the age of 41: he had died the previous day. Cyanide poisoning was established as the cause of death. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it was speculated that this was the means by which Turing had consumed a fatal dose. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide. Andrew Hodges and another biographer, David Leavitt, have both speculated that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), his favourite fairy tale. Both men noted that (in Leavitt's words) he took "an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew".
The Imitation Game is a 2014 American historical drama film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence messages for the British government during the Second World War. Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong also star.