Who is this Alan Turing guy?

dead Snow WhiteAn half-eaten apple and a dead body in the bed. A scene from Snow White and how Alan Turing died over fifty years ago. The coroner concluded suicide by cyanide. Today the Alan Turing award is the highest academic prize in the computing world – the Nobel prize of computer science.

The scourge of his last days was his conviction as a homosexual. He was excluded from governmental cryptographic work for “security reasons” and focused on quantum physics in the last years.

In school the young Alan had a hard time, because he only the hard sciences appealed to him. He flourished, when he finally reached university and was particularly fascinated by the Principia Mathematica and how Gödel shattered that approach. Then he learned about the Entscheidungsproblem stated by Hilbert some years ago as one of the ten big problems in mathematics. This ultimatly lead to his invention of the Turing machine. Though Church also solved the halting problem with his lambda calculus, the Turing machine proof is easier to understand for most people.

When Britain joined the second world war, Turing joined the cryptoanalysis headquarter Bletchley Park and helped to break the german Enigma code. He was a lead developer of the “Bombe” a electronical device to decipher german naval communications.

His experience with electronic devices and his idea of the Universal Turing Machine made him one of the first to dream of “building a brain”. Shortly after the war he tried to build this machine, but got too frustrated with politics. He shifted to neurology and physiology and was an injury away from the Olympic marathon team.

Instead of building computers he focused on using them. He made some important contributions in what he called “the mathematical theory of morphogenesis: the theory of growth and form in biology”.

Alan Turing memorial Unfortunatelly now follows the sad end, you read in the beginning.

You can find a memorial of Alan Turing in Sackville Park, between the University of Manchester building on Whitworth Street and the Canal Street ‘gay village’.

Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 9:09 am  Comments (5)  
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