The world of scientists has been blessed with so many ingenious, path-breaking inventors. Thanks to these masterminds, we now have a comfortable life and leapfrogged from light bulbs to microchips.
Alan Turing was one such remarkable English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist. He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science. He was also responsible for the formalization of algorithm and computation concepts with the help of Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
In 1935, Alan Turing set out to make a mark of his own by outflanking the world’s leading mathematician. He was only 22 years old, and a new student at Cambridge. His target, David Hilbert, was the venerated professor of the University of Göttingen who had single-handedly set the research agenda for 20th-century mathematics.
Turing’s influence permeates the computer industry. He was the first to devise the notion of step-by-step instructions or algorithms for calculations. As a young man, his idea of a ‘Universal Machine’, a hypothetical type of computer, resolved one of the most important problems in 20th-century mathematics.
The German military had been using a cipher machine called Enigma to encrypt their secret message for many years, even before the Second World War. The machine was about the size of a typewriter. But instead of having a carriage and paper like a normal typewriter, it had a second set of letters that lit up and was called the lampboard. Typing on the keyboard resulted in letters lighting up on the lampboard. So, if you pressed ‘A’ on the keyboard, the letter ‘H’ might then light up on the lampboard – which revealed the code!
During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking center. He also led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis, for a brief period. He devised many techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method and an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted, coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements. The major triumph was the Battle of the Atlantic as it has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by four years.
Since 1966, the Turing award has been given annually by the Association for Computing Machinery and is widely considered as equivalent to the Nobel Prize for computing. There is also a statue of Turing sitting on a bench, titled ‘Father of Computer Science,’ in Manchester’s Sackville Park.
Turing’s has certainly left a huge legacy. We owe a lot of our luxuries to this extraordinary man.
In today’s world, it’s Elon Musk who is gaining popularity with his revolutionary ideas. Read more about the man in this article.