Bronze-level articleAlan Turing

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Alan Turing
Here's this person, who is being murdered for who he is, after being one of the heroes for liberating people who were being murdered for being who they were.
—Jaron Lanier[1]

Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a British mathematician and academic and a key figure in the Bletchley Park SIGINT operation during World War II, particularly for his work in breaking the Enigma code. He was a marathon runner of near-Olympic standard. He was (as it happens) gay, and a victim of official persecution under the British law which criminalised homosexuality activity.

In 1952, he chose chemical castration[wp] as an alternative to prison after conviction for homosexual offences.[2] He died in 1954, after (as many think) choosing the Snow White route by eating an apple spiked with cyanide[3]), and therefore never lived to see the eventual revelation of his pivotal role in the Allied war effort, not to mention his lionisation as the alpha hacker of all alpha hackers.[4][5]

It seems unlikely that the conviction as a common criminal of one of the most significant figures in World War II[6] had any influence on the liberalisation of British law on homosexuality in 1968: his case is not mentioned in the Wolfenden Report[wp] of 1957, and his wartime activity was then still secret.

In 2013, he was granted an official pardon for his conviction, as a belated apology for the injustice he had suffered.

Contents

[edit] Church-Turing thesis

Turing is regarded as one of the fathers of computer science for his co-development, with Alonzo Church, of the Church-Turing thesis, which hypothesized that any problem that is "effectively computable" (solvable by mechanical means) can be solved using a certain sort of formally specified machine, which is now called a Turing machine.

He also devised a "universal Turing machine" that could "compute any function that any Turing machine can compute," which was a "blueprint" for the later general-purpose computers. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, many philosophers of science, being unacquainted with the finer points of the theory, have grossly misinterpreted the thesis, falsely stating that it proves Turing machines to be capable of computing all that is computable, or that any possible computer architecture is no more powerful than the Turing machine.[7]

[edit] Turing Test

The Turing Test is a well known method for ascertaining computer "intelligence." It consists of a person (judge) communicating with two subjects, one of which is human and the other a computer. If the judge is unable to distinguish between human and machine then the computer is said to display intelligence. The communication is nowadays via typed words on a screen in order to remove other sensory clues. Turing originally conceived the idea from a variant of a sex detection parlour game and envisaged teletype as the communication medium. The Chinese room thought experiment attempts to refute the Turing test's standard for judging artificial intelligence.

[edit] The imitation game

The original formulation of the test was known as "The Imitation Game", where person A attempted to impersonate person B. It was then up to the interviewer (Person C, if you will) to decide who was telling the truth and who was lying. Possibly due to Turing's interest in the nature of gender, he usually described A and B as a man and woman couple, with one pretending to be the other gender. The interviewer could ask questions and A and B, who were isolated from the interviewer so that even their voices wouldn't be heard, would then answer. The basis of the imitation game with regards to the development of the Turing Test was the question of what would happen when one of these individuals, A or B, was replaced by a machine (a computer, in our more modern views on how the test can be carried out). Unfortunately, this was as bit too much of a gender-bender for people's squeamish sensibilities, and almost every subsequent version of the test conducted left this part out, leaving it as just an interviewer and a simulated interviewee.

[edit] Extra points

Extra points can be earned by either computer or human if they are able to convince the judge that he (the judge) is a computer.[8]

[edit] Death

Turing was convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man in 1952 and was given a choice between jail time and chemical castration through the hormone estrogen, and chose the latter.[9][10] His security clearance was revoked, leaving him unable to continue his work in cryptanalysis. He died two years later of cyanide poisoning, which was ruled to have been a suicide after an investigation, though his mother thought the death might have been accidental.[11]

In 2009, the British government apologized for thus driving one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century to his death.

[edit] Overturning of conviction

In December 2013, Turing was finally issued a posthumous pardon.[12] The governing Tories did not oppose the backbench bill.

Criticisms against the legislation[13] ranged from poor education of law ("Oh, you're rewriting history!"), ad hominem ("This is why I can't take left-wing arguments seriously!") to outright homophobia ("There were rumours that Turing was a child molester!"[14]). The three likely overlap.

[edit] In film

There's a movie due out in 2014 about Turing's life, starring Benedict "One Computer Nerd Wasn't Enough For Me" Cumberbatch as the man himself; it's titled The Imitation Game (see above).

[edit] Turing and Apple Computer

While Apple Computer's bitten-apple logo is generally accepted to have been a reference to the story of Isaac Newton's apple, there is a curious urban legend to the effect that it is instead an homage to Alan Turing. This hypothesis is largely discounted, although still very prevalent.[15][16]

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Jaron Lanier: The Death of Alan Turing on Big Think.
  2. The maximum sentence was three years imprisonment.
  3. He was found with a half eaten apple by him. It wasn't tested, but he had earlier talked about the Disney cartoon.
  4. In 1999, Time Magazine named him as one the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century
  5. The voters in a 2002 BBC Poll ranked him the 21st Greatest Briton of all time - which is quite extraordinary, considering that mathematicians don't usually get many votes in that sort of poll, and that his war work had remained secret until late in the 20th century.
  6. It has been suggested and seems entirely plausible that, without his skills in breaking the German naval Enigma codes, Great Britain would have been starved into submission to Nazi Germany long before the USA entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
  7. The Church-Turing Thesis, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  8. I'm...not even sure who I am anymore.
  9. Turing, Alan, glbtq
  10. The British government, unwilling to grant variance from the Official Secrets Act, forbade presentation and consideration of Turing's indispensably vital role in the WWII victory to advocate mitigation in sentencing.
  11. Code-Breaker, The New Yorker
  12. Alan Turing granted royal pardon for gay sex conviction, CBC
  13. You can observe some of these here.
  14. Wikipedia themselves have been inundated with the claim and can't find anything scholarly to support it.
  15. Enigma of the Apple Computer Logo
  16. According to mattsmacintosh on YouTube, the logo had the "bite" because they overlapped the text "Apple Computers" over the apple.
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