Who was Alan Turing and why is he important?

According to Wikipedia, “Alan Turing OBE FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

“During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre that produced Ultra intelligence. For a time he led Hut 8, the section which was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Here he devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, 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, including the Battle of the Atlantic, and in so doing helped win the war. Counterfactual history is difficult with respect to the effect Ultra intelligence had on the length of the war, but at the upper end it has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over fourteen million lives.”

I have just read and reviewed a brilliant book by George Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral (2017), in which he examines the origins of the digital universe. I highly recommend it.

Also a film, The Imitation Game (2015) starring Benedict Cumberbatch, that is based on Turing’s service for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. He and his team were later credited by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill with doing more than anyone else to win World War Two.

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To learn more about Turing, please check out his brief `Wiki bio by clicking here.

Probably the best biography of Turing is B. Jack Copeland’s Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age (2014) and you may also wish to consider Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film “The Imitation Game,” co-authored by Andrew Hodges and Douglas Hofstad

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