Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in Paddington, London. The son of Julius and Sara Turing, Alan was a sickly child and spent many long hours reading books from the local library. This love of learning would stay with him throughout his life.
Turing entered King's College at the University of Cambridge in 1931. He soon became interested in mathematics and developed a new way to approach the subject. This led to his first major publication, "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem" (1936), which introduced the concept of a Turing machine.
Turing received a Ph.D. from Princeton University and returned to Cambridge, where he turned his attention to biology, cosmology, quantum mechanics and other subjects. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, which is still widely regarded as a landmark in biology. His book "Computing machinery and intelligence" introduced the Turing test, which is now used to judge artificial intelligence.
Turing's early work focused on the theory of computation and the development of mathematical models for digital computers. In 1936, he published a paper that proposed what is now known as the "Turing machine." Turing's paper is one of the most important and influential works in computer science; some consider it to be the most important work.
As WWII was starting, Turing applied for a position as a code breaker at Bletchley Park, Britain's main decryption establishment. Despite his previous publication on cryptography and his experience with early computers, the interview board was skeptical of his qualifications. Turing's friend Max Newman interceded on his behalf and managed to get him the position.
During World War II, Turing worked for the British government at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) Bletchley Park. His success in breaking German ciphers helped shorten the war and saved countless lives. Turing proved to be an excellent cryptanalyst and made significant contributions to the breaking of the German Enigma code. He also developed a number of important techniques for speeding the breaking of ciphers.
In 1948, Turing published a paper on Intelligent Machinery where he first introduced the Turing Test as a criterion of intelligence for machines. The test is still used to this day as a benchmark of artificial intelligence.
In 1950, Turing developed the idea of a "universal machine" - a computer that could be programmed to do any task. This was the first time that the concept of a computer program was proposed. Turing also worked on the development of the first computers, including the Manchester Mark 1 and the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE).
Turing's work has had a profound impact on the field of computing. In addition to his development of the concept of a programmable computer, Turing also introduced the idea of artificial intelligence and developed early methods for machine learning. Turing's work continues to be studied and used in modern computing. In 2012, Microsoft unveiled an artificial intelligence chatbot named after Turing, but it was shut down after researchers discovered the chatbot was not able to correctly identify sarcasm.
What is the Turing test?
Artificial intelligence is advancing at an extremely rapid pace. Current levels of AI can be found in self-driving cars and computers that are capable of beating the best human chess players. The Turing test was created by Alan Turing in 1950 to differentiate between a human and a machine when communicating. In order for a computer to pass the test, it would need to convince a judge that it was actually another human. This would be considered the highest achievement in artificial intelligence, since there is no way of knowing if someone is a machine or not.
The human judges were told that the person they were speaking to was actually a 65 year old man, and that they should try not to reveal this fact during their conversation. In actuality it was a computer program developed by Rollo Carpenter called The Fool. Despite being fooled into thinking that "the man" was human, the judges were not able to pass the Turing Test as they could not maintain a conversation for more than 5 minutes.
The most recent successful Turing Test was held in 2014 by a computer program called Eugene Goostman. The test was passed by convincing 33% of the judges that Eugene was a 13 year old boy from the Ukraine. This was a remarkable achievement as it was the first time that a computer program had passed the Turing Test on more than 50% of the occasions.
Many experts have cautioned against celebrating this as a major event because Eugene simply imitated intelligence rather than created it. They believe that real artificial intelligence will be achieved once machines are able to learn on their own and create their own algorithms.
Turing's work has been commemorated with Google's "Google Doodle" of June 23, 2012. The occasion was also celebrated in Manchester, England, where a statue of him and a plaque were unveiled at the University of Manchester on November 16. An anniversary stamp is being issued by Royal Mail.
Alan Turing never kept his sexuality a secret
In 1952, Turing was arrested by British police on charges of homosexuality, which had been illegal in Britain until 1967. He avoided a prison sentence by accepting chemical castration via estrogen hormone injections. Turing died two years later from cyanide poisoning; an inquest determined his death was suicide.
In 2009, 54 years after his death, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated." Two years later in the same year, Turing received a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II herself. The Queen's pardon was however deemed "legally meaningless" by some legal experts, since pardons are normally granted only when the person is still alive or dead for less than a certain number of years.
In 2013, Turing was included in a list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote. Despite his accomplishments turing was largely unrecognized in his lifetime, and it was not until after his death that he began to receive the recognition he deserves.
There is no doubt that Alan Turing was one of the most important figures in the history of computing and artificial intelligence. His work has been used to create some of the most advanced technologies in the world, and his legacy will continue to be celebrated for many years to come.