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Alan Mathison Turing was a brilliant mathematician whose machine, the Turing Machine, is often considered a model for the first computer. On the 23rd of June, 1912, Turing was born in Paddington, London. His genius was immediately apparent to his first school teachers. He grasped Einstein’s theories at age 16 and even began to question Newton’s laws of motion without the knowledge that Einstein himself also doubted their validity. During World War II Turing was a leading codebreaker who developed several methods for breaking German ciphers. In 1950 he developed a chess playing computer program for a computer that hadn’t yet been built.

Also being the grandfather of artificial intelligence, Turing proposed a test to tell whether a machine could “think.” Called the Turing Test, it aimed to determine whether a computer could think based on its ability to converse with a human. If the human was unable to tell whether the  conversation partner was human or machine, the computer passed the test.

In 1952 Turing plead guilty in court to being homosexual and agreed to receive hormonal treatments instead of incarceration. In 1954 he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide. Though his work has been incredibly relevant in our daily lives, Turing’s name has recently been in the news for reasons other than his computing genius. He was recently officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II. Below is a letter written to a friend of his, Norman Routledge, before going to trial.

 

“My dear Norman,

I don't think I really do know much about jobs, except the one I had during the war, and that certainly did not involve any travelling. I think they do take on conscripts. It certainly involved a good deal of hard thinking, but whether you'd be interested I don't know. Philip Hall was in the same racket and on the whole, I should say, he didn't care for it. However I am not at present in a state in which I am able to concentrate well, for reasons explained in the next paragraph.

I've now got myself into the kind of trouble that I have always considered to be quite a possibility for me, though I have usually rated it at about 10:1 against. I shall shortly be pleading guilty to a charge of sexual offences with a young man. The story of how it all came to be found out is a long and fascinating one, which I shall have to make into a short story one day, but haven't the time to tell you now. No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out.

 

Glad you enjoyed broadcast. Jefferson certainly was rather disappointing though. I'm afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future.

 

Turing believes machines think

Turing lies with men

Therefore machines do not think

 

Yours in distress,

 

Alan”