Turing file photo [8914]

Alan Turing

Given NameAlan
Born23 Jun 1912
Died7 Jun 1954
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseAlan Mathison Turing was born in Maida Vale, London, England, United Kingdom to Julius and Sara (née Stoney). His parents traveled to India on several occasions as his father was a member of the Indian Civil Service, during which time Turing and his older brother stayed with friends of the family in Hastings, England. At the age of six, he enrolled at St. Michael's school, where he began to show signs of above average intelligence. In 1926, he entered the prestigious Sherborne School in Dorset, England; teachers at Sherborne criticized that Turing was focusing too much on learning mathematics and science while not spending enough time on the classics, which the teachers thought was much more important. In 1928, at the age of 16, after reading Albert Einstein's work, he was able to figure out that Einstein was questioning Isaac Newton's laws of motion when Einstein did not explicitly say so in his text. He attended King's College in Cambridge, England between 1931 and 1934, and in 1935 he was elected a fellow at King's College after writing a dissertation on the central limit theorem. In the paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" of 1936, he proved that machines (ie. "Turing machines") were capable of any mathematical computation if the computations could be presented as algorithms. Between Sep 1936 and Jul 1938, he studied under Alonzo Church at the Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton University in New Jersey, United States, receiving his doctorate degree. Returning to Cambridge, he began working for the Government Code and Cypher School on a part-time basis starting from Sep 1938.

ww2dbaseThe European War began on 1 Sep 1939, and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany three days later. On 4 Sep, Turing reported to Bletchley Park in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, England, where as a continuing member of the Government Code and Cypher School he contributed to the breaking of German codes. Specifically, he invented an electromechanical machine named the "bombe" which deciphered German Enigma code faster than its predecessor. The bombe machine tested all possible combinations of Enigma settings, keeping combinations that yielded fragments of logical text while discarding the others, yielding only a limited set of potential results for human analysts to study. The first bombe machine was installed on 18 Mar 1940, and through the war over 200 of them would be put in use. In Dec 1940, he broke the more complex German naval Enigma indicator system.

ww2dbaseIn 1941, Turing proposed to coworker Joan Clarke. The engagement was ended after a short time after Turing admitted to Clarke of his homosexuality.

ww2dbaseIn Jul 1942, Turing devised the "Turingery" technique to decipher messages encrypted by the German Lorenz cipher. In Nov 1942, he traveled to Washington DC, United States to work with the cryptanalysts of the United States Navy on building bombe machines and with Bell Labs engineers on developing secure speech devices. He returned to Bletchley Park in Mar 1943. Later in the war, he was transferred to nearby Hanslope Park where he, together with engineer Donald Bailey, designed a portable secure voice communications machine codenamed "Delilah"; Delilah machines were not adopted for practical use partly because the design was developed too late during the war to make a difference militarily.

ww2dbaseIn 1945, Turing was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his war time services, but descriptions of his achievements were purposefully vague, for the work done was still classified.

ww2dbaseBetween 1945 and 1947, Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory where he worked on the design of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). On 19 Feb 1946, he presented a paper that revealed his design of a stored-program computer, a machine that had working potentials, but came under scrutiny from the government as it might suggest too much of his war time endeavors. He eventually became disillusioned and took a sabbatical starting in late 1947, and the first Automatic Computing Engine was built during his absence. In 1948, he joined the University of Manchester, where he, among other topics, studied artificial intelligence. He also began to write a chess program with colleague D. G. Champernowne; lacking a computer powerful enough to run the program, he simulated the program, taking about half an hour per move, losing a game to colleague Alick Glennie and rumored to have won a game against Champernowne's wife.

ww2dbaseIn 1952, Turing and the 19-year-old man Arnold Murray had a homosexual relationship, which was discovered. As it was illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration; he chose the latter. The conviction led to his security clearance being removed, thus he was unable to continue his work with cryptography.

ww2dbaseBetween 1952 and his death in 1954, Turing studied mathematical biology, focusing on the understanding of mathematical patterns such as Fibonacci numbers in plant structures (Fibonacci phyllotaxis).

ww2dbaseOn 8 Jun 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead in his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, England. Post-mortem examination found that he had died on the previous day from cyanide poisoning. It was speculated that an apple might had been used to deliver the poison. Official cause of death was suicide, but Turing's mother argued that Turing more likely ingested cyanide due to improperly-stored laboratory chemicals. He was cremated on 12 Jun 1954.

ww2dbaseThe Association for Computing Machinery's prestigious Turing Award was named after Alan Turing, who was said by some to be the "Father of computer science". In 1999, he was named one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine for his involvement in the creation of the modern computer. On 10 Sep 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for the treatment of Turing for his homosexuality.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Dec 2009

Alan Turing Interactive Map

Alan Turing Timeline

23 Jun 1912 Alan Turing was born in Maida Vale, London, England, United Kingdom.
4 Sep 1939 Alan Turing reported to Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom.
18 Mar 1940 Alan Turing's first electromechanical machine, "bombe", was installed.
6 Sep 1941 Alan Touring met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during Churchill's visit at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom.
19 Feb 1946 Alan Turing presented a paper that revealed his design of a stored-program computer, but he was scrutized by the British government as it contained too much secret technology developed during WW2.
7 Jun 1954 Alan Turing passed away in his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, England, United Kingdom. The cause of death was cyanide poisoning; it was generally accepted to be a suicide, but his mother suspected it to be poor chemical storage procedures at his lab.
12 Jun 1954 Alan Turing's remains were cremated.
10 Sep 2009 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for the treatment of Alan Turing for his homosexuality.
24 Dec 2013 Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom issued an unprecedented Royal Pardon expunging Alan Turing's 1952 indecency conviction.
15 Jul 2019 The Bank of England announced that Alan Turing will be on the United Kingdom's new £50 note.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Ted Bell says:
18 Jul 2012 08:13:36 AM

The following changes would improve the text. Numbers refer to paragraphs.
1. Insert comma after "Kingdom"; change "criticized that Turing was focusing" to "criticized Turing for focussing"; change "in" to a comma before "Cambridge".
3. Change "admitted to Clarke of his homosexuality" to "admitted his homosexuality to Clarke".
4 (end). Change "it was" to "they were".
7. Delete "man" before the name "Arnold Murray".
9. Change "Turing mother" to "Turing's mother".
2. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
6 Mar 2016 11:00:05 PM

Arguably the finest mathematical genius of his generation, Alan Turing was also a prodigious runner, and is said to have once run along the Grand Union Canal all the way back from Bletchley to London - A distance of 48 miles.
3. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
13 Mar 2016 07:26:29 AM

In February 1939, Alan Turing and his friend Fred Clayton sponsored two Jewish boys, Robert Augenfeld and Karl (surname unknown) to escape from Vienna. Turing would personally pay for Augenfeld's education in England and the four were photographed together at Bosham, West Sussex, in August 1939 just days before Turing reported to Bletchley Park for duty.
4. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
20 Mar 2016 01:24:14 AM

While at Cambridge in th 1930 Alan Turing bought himself a teddy bear and named it Porgy. He was known to practice his complex mathematical lectures out loud before it; Porgy proving to be an attentive listener.
5. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
27 Mar 2016 06:06:53 AM

At a time long before marathon running became popular, Alan Turing is recorded as having covered the distance in a time of 2 hours 40 minutes. Not too shabby a performance even today.
6. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
23 Jun 2017 05:21:53 AM

At Bletchley the unworldly Alan Turing would frequently annoy his colleagues by acts of irresponsibility. On one occasion He prompted mirth by joining Bletchley’s Home Guard because he was seized by an impulse to learn to shoot, then provoked apoplectic rage of its colonel by absenting himself from parades once he had fulfilled this private purpose.
7. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
1 Sep 2018 05:45:01 AM

Joan Clarke (1907-96) came to Bletchley Park as one the 'Girls' from Cambridge University recruited to assist the codebreakers, by Gordon Welchman’s chess playing partner, Stuart Milner-Barry. A Newnham College alumna, she followed her wartime career as a cryptanalyst with important research into the history of Scottish coins. She almost became Mrs. Turing when they became engaged in 1941, though her fiancé finally decided that he could not go through with their marriage. Afterwards she would admit that she had suspected his homosexuality long before he had explicitly confided in her, but she loved the close platonic friendship that they had shared. Alan Turing seems to have treated Joan as an equal intellectual and emotional partner – perhaps his closest since the death of his closest school companion, Christopher Morcom, who had died from tuberculosis in 1930 throwing Turing into a decade long period of deep mourning. Whatever a life with Alan was going to lack from her perspective, his recognition of her right to be a thinking person must have felt genuinely bracing to Joan. Recently, Joan Clarke was portrayed in the 2014 Movie ‘The Imitation Game’ by English actress Kiera Knightley.
8. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
4 Sep 2018 07:28:20 AM

New arrivals at Bletchley Park were frequently amazed to see Alan Turing cycling around the grounds wearing a gas mask. He claimed this was to protect himself from contracting hay fever.
9. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
14 Sep 2018 12:57:54 AM

Alan Turing, who was generally known by his nickname, Prof, - 'was widely regarded as an eccentric, largely because he just thought on a different level to other people. He had difficulty dealing with women and often spoke very fast, more out of enthusiasm than anything else, giving people the false idea that he had a stammer. He cycled to work wearing a gas mask to stop the pollen sparking off his hay fever, chained his coffee mug to a radiator and converted his life savings into silver bars as insurance against a collapse of the pound caused by the costs of the war. Having persuaded his bank, with a great deal of difficulty, to get him the silver bars, he buried them, working out an elaborate set of instructions so he could find them once the war was over and the danger to the currency had passed. But he never did find them again.’

From: The Debs of Bletchley Park by Michael Smith (Aurum Press, 2015)
10. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
18 Sep 2018 02:16:27 AM

Alan Turing told only one person that he and Joan Clarke had become engaged to be married. This was Shaun Wylie, an old friend from Cambridge who had joined the Seniors’ Room in Bletchley’s Hut 8. No one else in the Hut knew and Joan did not wear a ring.

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