English born mathematician, Alan Turing is one of the most notable figures in the history of computing. Since his father worked under the British in India, he grew up in Britain with his family friends. He was naturally gifted in mathematics and science, though it wasn’t appreciated much as his school paid more importance to the classics. At the age of 19, he wrote a paper “On computable Numbers”, driven by his fascination for the subject.
Turing’s contribution to mathematics was both vital as well as unique - he explained which type of mathematical problems can be solved by using a purely mechanical approach. His answer was phrased in terms of a theoretical machine (today known as the "Turing machine") which could mechanically carry out these computations. One of the most remarkable about him was that he could solve problems in calculus without even knowing the basics!
Coming to his encounters with cryptography, he worked part time at the GCSS (Government Code and Cipher School). In the midst of the Second World War, he played a significant role in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German enigma machine, which turned out to be a boon for the Allies in Bletchley Park. His work at Bletchley also made him proficient in working with electronics and with special-purpose calculating equipment, which benefited him several times well after the war.
In 1945 he moved to Teddington, England, to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) with the responsibility of having to design an electronic computer for Government purposes. Turing chalked plans for this ACE computer, a one of a kind stored program computer which made use of vacuum tubes for switching and mercury delay lines for storage. The Pilot ACE, a scaled down version which was completed in 1950, was one of the first operating stored program computers. It was multifaceted and found applications in everything including aircraft design, for many years.
D.G. Champernowne and Turing set out to write a chess program in 1948, something that had never been done before. The first simulation was in 1952, since he lacked a powerful computer, it took half an hour to make every single move. This game was recorded and the results were that Alick Glennie, his colleague defeated the program. Sources say that Champernowne’s wife did lose to the program.
Turing worked on morphogenesis and mathematical biology in general from 1952 until his death in 1954. He had published a paper "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis" in 1952. This paper put forth his hypothesis on patter formation. He died of cyanide poisoning in his home in 1954.
Ever since 1966, the Turing Award ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) is being given to a people for technical contributions to the computing community, in his honor. This award is as prestigious as the noble prize to the computing community.
- Historic Figures, Alan Turing, BBC AlanTuring.net Turing's Last Programs By Jack Copeland
- The Turing Archive for the History of Computing
- Alan Turing
- Image courtesy Jack Copeland