Who is Alan Turing?

Thanks to Twitter and my old friend Jim Greenberg, I now know who Alan Turing is. Thanks to John Graham-Cumming, who was on This Week in Tech #213, Alan Turing received an apology. Since I have worked in technology for many years, I know some of the key players in the development of modern day computers. I’ve read the writings of Vannevar Bush, and studied the contributions of the Gordon Moore’s and Robert Metcalfe’s. I have even stood in the same room as Alan Kay, and three feet away from Doug Englebart.

Alan Turing was not a name that I was familiar with, until Jim tweeted about an apology from the British Government. Calling the treatment of Alan Turing “appalling”, Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged the life-saving accomplishments of Turing and his important contributions to the field of Computer Science. Why Alan Turing was treated badly in 1950’s England was because he was gay, a criminal offense at the time, and the same crime that Oscar Wilde had been convicted of. Turing was convicted of “gross indecency” and subjected to chemical castration (instead of going to prison). He committed suicide shortly thereafter.

By every account, Turing was an interesting, if eccentric, individual. You can get a glimpse of his life in his Wikipedia article. Two tidbits regarding his life are particularly fascinating. One is that he was a world-class runner. His best marathon effort was only 20 minutes slower than the world record for the late 1940’s and only 11 minutes slower than the ’48 Olympic Games marathon winner. The other tidbit is an urban legend, but the story goes that the Apple logo, which is an apple with a small bite out of it, is a tribute to Turing who supposedly took his life by eating an apple laced with cyanide. Now you know.

cc licensed flickr photo by basegreen: http://flickr.com/photos/basegreen/2726029248/


One Response

  1. Thank you, very informative. I am a veteran engineer of cryptographic equipment. In fact my first equipment I learned was the Adonis KL-7, cousin to the Enigma yet this year is the first time I’ve ever really connected Dr. Turing and my life. He was remarkable and the world should morn his loss even if it is late. I recently gave a ppt presentation for an IT managers course, it was about Turing. The last slide is a request for support by signing a petition to request he be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to America’s National Security during WWII. Best regards.


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