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Alan Turing Biography: The Father of Computer Science

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On 23rd June 1912 at Paddington, London, Alan Turing was born. The child of a Briton who worked in the Indian Civil service, Julius Mathison Turing and Ethel Sara Stoney, who had married in India, would become who the world calls the Father of Computer Science.

Though he rose to become a brilliant mathematician who contributed in turning the tide of the Second World War, Alan did not get the best out of his early school days in learning. Just after he was sent to school his parents removed him because he did not seem to be obtaining anything. He was later admitted at the Hazlehurst Preparatory School, where his performance seemed average in most subjects but he had a tendency of following his own ideas, which made him stand out from other pupils of his age. He played chess and joined the debate team of his school.

In 1926 he joined the Sherburne School after having passed his Common Entrance exam, the same year when there was a general strike. During the strike Turing would cycle 60 miles from home to school which made him fit to the standards of an Olympics athlete. He did not like the setting of the public schools, the same case with many original thinkers who were against the idea of conventional schooling. His thinking led him to different directions from those that his teachers were taking.

Alan Turing Biography

He had a poor handwriting which made teachers always complain; he was also weak in English and mathematics, he mainly concentrated on his own ideas from which he always tried to provide solutions for existing problems. Although he always produced unconventional answers, he always won most of the prizes in mathematics at his school. From an early age he had shown interest in chemistry and when he got the chance in school, he carried out experiments with his own agenda, but this did not always go well for him with the teachers.

At school, his headmaster suggested in a comment that due to his interests Turing would rather not be in a Public School, “If he is to stay in a public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientist, he is wasting his time at a Public School”. On his own Turinglearnt deep mathematics though his teachers were not aware, he read Einstein’s papers on relativity and also researched about quantum mechanics in Eddington`s “The nature of the physical world”.

In 1928, something that would greatly change Turing’s life happened, he became friends with Christopher Morcom, a pupil who was a class above him and together they worked on their scientific ideas. For the first time Turing had found someone who appreciated his ideas and with whom they could share thought and ideas together. However this feeling was soon to be shattered in 1930 when Morcom died, a very sad moment in life for Turing.

Having persevered difficult school years, Turing joined King`s College in Cambridge to take a course in mathematics. His journey to the King`s College was not without difficulty, on his first attempt in the scholarship examinations in 1929, he failed to win a scholarship but won an exhibition but on his second try, the following year he was successful getting the scholarship. College was a relief for Turing because it gave room for people with unconventional ideas like his, this gave Turing a chance to explore his own ideas and he also got to read Russell`s Introduction to mathematical philosophy, he also read Von Neumann’s article on quantum mechanics, a concept he revisited many times in his life.

In 1933 Turing grew an interest for mathematical logic. The following year he wrote a paper on Mathematics and logic, in which he suggested that a purely logistic view of mathematics was inadequate; and mathematical propositions possessed a variety of interpretations of which the logistic was merely one.

In 1933, like many other young people at the time of Hitler’s rise, Turing joined the anti-war movement though he was not polarized to Marxism neither was he to pacifism. During the war, he worked at Britain’s code breaking center as a cryptanalyst he was able to break German ciphers thus being a great asset for Britain during the war.

He graduated in 1934 and the year later he enrolled for an advanced course on the foundations of math at Max Newman School. The course covered Gödel’s incompleteness results and Hebert’s question on decidability. Here an algorithm to decide whether a statement was true or false was studied, at this time most propositions had a true or false answer, but Turing focused on getting an algorithm for that propositions without a true or false answer.

Since attending the Newman`s course, Turing focused on the true/false questions, in 1936 Turing made a publication on Computable numbers with an application to the Enthscheidungs problem, in which he introduced an abstract machine, which is now known as the Turing Machine, which changed states by using a set of rules which were contained in the finite table, this depended on a single symbol it read from a tape. Using the Turing machine a person could write or delete a symbol from a tape. The Turning machine formalized the concepts of algorithm and computing.

Turing defined a computable number as one which is a real number and its decimal expansion could be produced by the Turing machine beginning with a blanktape; he also defined a number that is not computable as one which cannot be described in finite terms. His paper has been of fundamental importance to mathematics and computer science, though in 1936 a publication by the Alonzo church suggested that that there is no decision procedure for arithmetic.

Turing had described the computer as “…a machine which can be made to do the work of any special purpose machine, that is to say to carry out any piece of computing, if a tape bearing suitable instructions is inserted into it…” before it had been constructed. The Turing machine can be compared to today’s computer, where the tape today is represented by computer programs. This is why Turing is referred to as the father of Computer Science; he had also come up with the idea of constructing a computer when he constructed an analogue machine which was to investigate the Riemann hypothesis, which today is still an unsolved mathematical problem.

He was elected in 1951 to be a member of the Royal Society of London, mainly due to his work on the Turing machine.

In 1952 Turing was arrested for violating British homosexuality statutes by the police, he was open about his sexuality and during his trial he told the court that he saw nothing wrong with his behavior. He refused to take the sentence in prison, accepting to take oestrogen injections for a year.

Sadly the great British mathematician and cryptanalyst died in 1954 while conducting electrolysis experiments, he died of cyanide poisoning.

References

Teuscher, Christof. Alan Turing: life and legacy of a great thinker. Berlin: Springer, 2004. Print.

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