Alan Turing, the British mathematician and codebreaker born 100 years ago June 23, is being honored on the anniversary of this birth as a key figure in the founding of modern computing.
Commemorative events are being planned Saturday in the United States, India, South Korea as well as at the universities of Manchester and Cambridge in Britain, where Turing worked.
There will be a music concert in his honour in Seattle and a tribute walk ending at Sackville Park in Manchester where a life-size statue of Turing sits on a bench holding an apple. On Saturday, Google offered an interactive Google Doodle honoring his memory. The Doodle is a virtual version of the Turing Machine that helps explain how a CPU thinks in binary terms — 1s and 0s.
Turing was not only an academic polymath, he worked at Bletchley Park, and helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers, to help reveal the settings for the Nazi’s Enigma machine.
Turing also did pioneering work on artificial intelligence, developing the “Turing Test” to measure whether a machine can think. One of the most prestigious honors in computing, the $250,000 Turing Prize, is named after him.
But Turing was not always considered a national treasure. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He then killed himself in 1954 at age 41.
Homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967.
In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a public apology on behalf of the government for Turing’s “inhumane” treatment, saying: “We’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
Most of Bletchley Park’s secret files were destroyed after the war, and Turing left few records of his work.
Last year, papers relating to his work went to a British museum after the National Heritage Memorial Fund stepped in to help buy them for the nation.The papers in this collection belonged to his friend and fellow codebreaker Max Newman and include 16 of the 18 scientific papers Turing published in his lifetime — notably “On Computable Numbers,” a landmark in the history of computing.
On Saturday, the BBC reported that an expert on Turing will raise doubts about the evidence surrounding Turing’s suicide. According to Professor Jack Copeland, Turing’s death was as likely to have been an accident.