Happy Birthday Turing!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing.  Described by wikipedia as a “British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist”. He is possibly most famous for his work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the second world war and is known as the “father of modern computing”.  His ideas are responsible for the computer you are reading this on existing!

Turing also defined the test used to determine whether an artificial intelligence (AI) is truly human-like.  The Turing test places a human in a room separate from the AI.  The human then converses with the AI in an attempt to decide whether they are indeed talking to an AI or another human.  The AI passes the test if it cannot be distinguished from a human.  You can try a Turing test here.

Turing is probably as famous for his personal life as for his work though.  He was arrested in 1952 for homosexuality after having to admit to having a male lover in his house when he was burgled.  He was then forced to undertake a “treatment” of female hormones intended to make him asexual.  His sexuality is a major reason why his work wasn’t fully appreciated until long after his death.  He died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, which the inquest ruled as suicide.  Professor Jack Copeland has argued that it was just as likely to have been an accident as the original investigation was not thorough enough to make a solid verdict.

If you want to find out more about Turing’s life and work, the BBC has a lovely series of articles.  Or you could visit the special exhibition at the Science Museum.

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