Alan Turing: WWII Code-breaker

Alan Turing Lived Here!

A few minutes walk from the River Thames at Hampton, is a house adorned with a plaque celebrating that Alan Turing lived there from 1945 – 1947, when he worked at the nearby National Physical Laboratory. But who was Alan Turing?

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Alan Turing Blue Plaque, Hampton

Alan Turing was born June 1912. He studied mathematics at Cambridge University and graduated in 1934 with a first class honours degree. He is known as a code-breaker of World War II and as the father of computer science.  

He gained his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1938 and it was during this time that he first thought of the ‘universal computing machine’ to solve complex calculations. The Turing machine was the forerunner of modern computers.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing (Photo: BL)

He also studied cryptology, the study of codes and cyphers used to send secret messages. This was a crucial experience for his later years.

In 1939, Alan Turing joined the Government Codes and Cypher School (now GCHQ) which relocated to Bletchley Park when World War II began. He was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma code, resulting in the German defeat. It is estimated that his work at Bletchley shortened the war by up to two years.

In 1945, Turing was awarded an O.B.E. for his services to the country.

Alan Turing has become something of an LGBTQ icon. He was a gay man living in times when it was illegal to participate in homosexual acts. After reporting a burglary it transpired that Turing was in a relationship with the accused perpetrator and was arrested and charged with gross indecency. To avoid jail he accepted chemical castration which left him impotent.

This impacted his work enormously: his security clearance was rescinded and he was barred from GCHQ and his work on cryptology.

Alan Turing was found dead on 8 June 1954 from cyanide poisoning, having died the day before. His death was ruled a suicide but there have been questions raised about the manner of his death and if his scientific experiments caused him to ingest the poison accidentally.

Turing’s life and legacy has recently been re-evaluated and in 2013 the gross indecency conviction was posthumously overturned when a royal pardon was granted. Furthermore, in 2015 a new national centre for research in data science and AI, The Alan Turing Institute, was created in his name.

 

Sources:

https://www.bl.uk/people/alan-turing

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/about-us/history/alan-turing/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/z8bgr82

 

15 thoughts on “Alan Turing: WWII Code-breaker

  1. He was such a clever man, and definitely the country owes him their gratitude for breaking these codes. The film depicted his life well, it was such a shame they didn’t treat him nicely and all those years later overturned it all why wait such a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

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