What worlds, known or unknown, would have been made possible had Alan
Mathison Turing (1912-1954) not died of cyanide poisoning at the age of 42?
For not only was Turing working on advanced problems in biology and physics
at the time, he had already contributed his major part to the development of
the intelligent computer.
Born in London into a scientifically undistinguished family, Turing was said
to have taught himself to write in a short span of only several weeks. After
reading, and being inspired by the book "Natural Wonders Every Child Should
Know" Turing gave his life completely to science. Headstrong, eccentric and
prone to solitary pursuits, Turing distinguished himself as a brilliant
mathematician at King's College Cambridge, and, later, at Princeton began
work on proofs that established the foundation of the British computer.
It was around this time that Turing invented the "Turing Machine"- a machine
that can automatically compute anything a human can compute within finite
time. The Turing Machine was an abstract concept that represented the
actions of a computer. This concept entailed the writing of certain
precisely defined operations onto a tape of infinite length. As such, the
Turing Machine would be an incalculable influence on computability and
One can say that Turing bridged the gap between logic and the physical
world. Thought and action. Computer programs and practical machinery. But it
was Turing's secretive work for the British Government during World War II
that allowed Turing the opportunity to use his genuis for another cause-the
saving of lives. While German U-Boats prowled the North Atlantic sinking
British ships at will, Turing was hard at work at the British cryptanalytic
headquarters at Bletchley Park. At Bletchley, Turing designed machines that
would help crack the German "Enigma" code. Once broken, the Allies were able
to shift the balance of the war in the North Atlantic.
After the war Turing published "Computing Machinery and
Intelligence"-considered a seminal work dealing with Artificial Intelligence
and Philosophy. Turing also ventured into the area of morphogenisis-the
theory of growth and form in biology. Turing was also dealing with a
machine's ability to think, and the possibility of building intelligent
Turing was not only a brilliant scientist but an accomplished long distance
runner who once considered entering the Olympics as a cross country runner.
Solitary and nonconformist, Turing was to suffer the inglorious misfortune
of being arrested for being a homosexual. Ultimately, Turing was denied the
security clearance that allowed him his work in cipher intelligence with
the British Government. He was tried and punished by a British Court in 1952.
As befalls many geniuses, Turing met an untimely death. On June 7, 1954 he
was found dead. Many labelled the death accidental owing to the fact that
Turing kept many poisonous bottles about his house. The coroner listed
Turing's death a suicide. The world will never know for sure. More
importantly is what is known...the fact Alan Mathison Turing gave science,
and the world, the very groundwork which made the intelligent computer a
thing of reality and infinite wonder-a truly heroic task!