Biography: Alan Mathison Turing
Alan Mathison Turing was surrounded by enigma, not only did he break many cryptic codes but he also lived a mysterious life. Turing was born on June 23, 1912 in Paddington, London to Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara Turing. Turing’s father, Julius, was an officer in the British administration in India when he decided that his son would be
raised in England.
Turing had an older brother named John, who also had a childhood determined by the demands of the class and the exile in India of his parents. Alan and his older brother lived among various English foster homes while they were children until 1926, when their
father retired from India. While raised in foster homes, Alan was not encouraged nor shown any support, yet through his own curiosity and imagination he found a deep underlying passion for science, primarily in chemistry experiments. Later he went on to other areas of science.
Alan became more and more enthralled with science, and his mother worried that he would not be accepted to Sherbourne, an English public school, because he was so much of a scientific specialist. But in 1926, Alan was granted admittance to the public school. However, after a short while the Headmaster reported to his mother that if Alan
was solely a scientific specialist, that he was wasting his time. Many other teachers also felt the same was as the Headmaster.
In 1928, Turing became interested in relativity, and it was at this time that Alan met Christopher Morcom, and everything changed for him. And it was Morcom’s death that prompted Turing to get further involved and motivated to do what Morcom could not. Turing questioned how the human mind was embodied in matter, and whether this matter was released after death. This led him to study twentieth century physics where Alan began to question whether quantum mechanical theory affected the state and his questions of mind and matter.
In 1931, Turing won an entrance to King’s college in Cambridge on scholarship. It was here that Turing was able to express his ideas freely. In 1932 Turing read Con Neumann’s work on the logical foundations of Quantum Mechanics. It was also here at Cambridge that Turing’s homosexuality became a big part of his identity. Turing went on to receive his degree in 1934 followed by a M.A. degree from King’s college in 1935, and a Smith prize in 1936 for his work on probability theory.
In 1936 Turing enrolled as a graduate at Princeton University, and obtained his Ph.D thesis through work that extended his original ideas, Ordinal Logic. When he returned to England in 1938, he was called on the outbreak of World War II, to serve at the Government Code and Cypher School. It was there that Turing was able to crack the German ‘Enigma’; code, an effort which was central in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yet Turing was better known for his ‘Turing Machine’;. His machine was much like a typewriter, yet having the additional ability of being able to read other symbols anderase them if necessary. Turing decided on the idea of a tape of infinite length, divided into squares, with each square carrying a single symbol. The machine would then move from square to square and either change the value or move on according to a predetermined set of inferences. Turing proved that his machine would be able to compute any computable function given the correct set of instructions. Turing never actually built such a machine, but it was this idea that led to the construction of the modern day computer.