Alan Mathison Turing, the full name of Alan Turing, is a great mathematician and pioneer logician. Although his significant contribution to computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and cryptanalysis are stereotyped for young kids, it was bizarre and unrecognized even a few years ago. If Misterschool had written an article about Alan Turing ten years ago, certainly, many of us would not have acknowledged this distinguished person. In this era of the internet and digitalization, there was a movie named “The Imitation Game (2014)” released based on the biography of Alan Turing. This is another argument why he is now more eminent to young people. Moreover, to people of mathematics and computer science, he is pronounced with immense respect. However, it is inevitable that with an article or a single book it is not possible to express and explain his contributions. It can be unequivocally said that he is the first visionary person of Artificial Intelligence, on whom a lot of big companies are researching and investing now. He has also threatened the cryptography world by retrieving the secret information of the German enigma in world war II. Today we are not going to tell you about the Turing Machine, that is used by us almost every day, or not about the rumor that Steve Jobs devised ‘Apple Inc.’ logo in remembering that Alan Turing suicided after eating a venomous apple. Stay tuned with us, we will learn about those interesting tales in other Misterschool articles.
On June 23, 1912, Alan Mathison Turing was born. His father, Julius Mathison Turing, was an Indian civil servant. While he was working in British-India, Alan came to his mother’s womb. They wanted to raise their child in England because of educational facilities. So his mother Ethel Sara Stoney moved to England carrying him in her womb. Finally, he was born in London. Alan Turing spent most of his early childhood away from his parents, while his father had been serving in British-India.
He was admitted to St. Michaels’ at the age of six. He was good at mathematics and modern science and teachers also praised him for his intelligence since childhood. He was transferred to Sherborne School at the age of 13, which is a popular boarding school in Dorset. In 1926, at the age of fourteen, Turing easily passed the entrance examination from the Sherburn School. At that time the strike was going on again. In an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reductions and deteriorate conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called for this unavoidable strike. Around 1.7 million people’s jobs were quit forcefully, especially in the transport and heavy industries. As a result, all vehicles were stopped. But Turing did not skip going to school. On the first day, he went to school sixty miles away from home by bicycle. The news was also published in the local newspapers. Interestingly, Turing did not like to study following the banal education system of that time. He spent more time on creative and independent studying than on so-called textbooks and assignments. But his mother was desperate for Turing to finish school.
Unfortunately, while studying at Sherburn, he began to receive regular ridicule from almost every student at the school. He created a whole world of his own around him. So everyone used to laugh at him. That’s when Christopher came into his life. Christopher Morkom, who was in Turing’s upper-class student. When Christopher extends a hand of sympathy in Turing’s life, lack of friendship, and full of loneliness, Turing grabs that hand with deep emotion. Christopher introduced Turing to the higher branches of knowledge, numerology, relativity, modern scientific theories, astronomy, and much more interesting branches. Those topics were much more ahead of the school curriculum. Gradually Christopher’s influence began to fall on Turing, who fell in love with his only friend and his sagaciousness. Christopher’s death from bovine tuberculosis in 1930 devastated Turing’s life. Even after the death of Christopher, Turing wished to believe that somehow the mind of Christopher lived on. His emotional distress included a theoretical obsession with the mind and brain issue which underlies his later research. Later he turned around and resumed his studies with a broken heart.
Turing moved to Cambridge in October 1931 to study at King’s College. That time he won a scholarship. But later he realized his deep interest in practical uses for abstract mathematical ideas. In consequence, due to his disinterest in the so-called education system, he was deprived of a scholarship from Trinity College. He had to choose Kings College for that reason. There, he began to study mathematics. In 1933, Turing became acquainted with mathematical logic. In 1934, he became a graduate student. In 1935, he was elected as a Fellow of the College for his research on the Gaussian error function. He was only twenty-two years old then. That same year he proposed the Turing Machine. He suggests that “if an instrument is subordinated to an algorithm, it can solve all mathematical problems.” The term algorithm is very common nowadays, but that is the idea that Alan Turing first came up with. In other words, it was the kickoff of modern computing. Along with this idea, the devised the very idea of ‘Universal Machine’ that will follow an algorithm to perform any kind of mathematical problem. Meantime, Turing was awarded the “Smith’s Prize” in 1936 for his contributions to probability theory.
At the time, it was not easy to demonstrate the power of a set of instructions (algorithm), since computers were extremely slow. But now in every sector of modern technology, from microchip to automated spaceship, we are seeing the reality of that proposal. Many people in our world are familiar with programming nowadays, teaching programming has started in most of the education system from school level. When it comes to programming, we go back and forth with the proof of Turing’s proposal every time. The moment we write an algorithm for each programming problem, the algorithm gives us the output in less than a second if the input is given. However, Turing moved to Princeton University in 1936, where he began his Ph.D. research in mathematical logic under the Alonzo Church. He received his Ph.D. in 1938. After completing his Ph.D., in 1939, Turing moved to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire to attend the Government Code and Cipher School. When World War II broke out, Turing became directly involved in the rescue of German naval intelligence. At the time, the German encoding machine Enigma was working in a team at Bletchley Park to break the code. If any data is encrypted in Enigma, the solution will be 159 million. Accurate information was impossible to retrieve. Even if such a solution could be worked out, everything would be ruined after midnight. Because every 24 hours, at noon, the keywords of the enigma machine kept in the German camp were changed. “It is impossible to decipher the information encryption pattern on every 24 hours,” said Turing. Then Turing came up with a proposal for a completely different device in late 1939. He said, “Humans can’t defeat enigma. Rather, it is possible for a device.” Construction of the device was completed in the spring of 1940. It was named ‘Bombe’. In the aftermath, ‘Bombe’ began to break down all the encrypted information of the German army one by one. The defeat of the Nazi forces in the Atlantic also happened as a result of such an unimaginable success of the ‘Bombe’.
In the aftermath of the war, the British government awarded Turing the ‘Order of the British Empire’ for his contributions to the war, although Turing’s contribution to the war was kept completely secret. According to Winston Churchill, “World War II was shortened by almost two years because of Turing.” Here it was the story of Turing’s educational life, early life achievement, and his contribution during World War II. For more interesting stories, keep your eye on Misterschool.