Happy 100th Birthday, Alan Turing!

An analog clock reading 9:432012-06-23 / 2012-W25-6T09:43:45-05:00 / 0x4fe5d621

Categories: math

An Enigma machine: It's a black box, roughly the size of a suitcase. On the top of the machine is a typewriter-style keyboard in QWERTZ layout. Behind the keyboard and another set of lights labelled with letters in a QWERTZ layout, and behind that are a set of three rotors. On the front are a bunch of wires and plugs.

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.

(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.