Today is the 100th birthday of one of the 20th century’s most under-appreciated people, British mathematician, computer scientist, and cryptoanalyst Alan Turing.
It’s impossible to live in modern society without coming into the consequences of Turing’s work. Alan Turing was a pioneer computer scientist, laying the theoretical framework for the information age. He also made key contributions to the Allies’ code-breaking efforts during World War II. It’s been estimated that his contributions sped up the defeat of Hitler by as much as two years.
Unfortunately, Alan Turing was a gay man in an age when it was illegal for men to have sex with other men.* Despite his contributions to winning the war, Turing was chemically castrated by the British goverment in the 1950s, and committed suicide as a result.
- For a general nontechnical introduction to this great man, you might want to check out this episode of the public radio program Radiolab.
- Gordon Brown’s 2009 apology, on behalf of the British government, for the government’s poor treatment of Alan Turing.
- How Alan Turing Invented the Computer Age, by computer scientist Ian Watson.
(Pictured is the Enigma machine, used by the German military to encrypt messages during the Second World War.)
Edited to add (21:18 CDT):
Here’s a neat video summarizing Turing’s work.
*It’s worth noting that as late as 2003, it was illegal in some states in the U.S. for a man to have sex with another man.