Who Was Alan Turing?


Quick Answer

Alan Turing was a pioneering British computer scientist, mathematician, cryptologist and philosopher. He also had multiple athletic successes as a marathoner and long-distance runner. Turing was also a gay man at a time when being so was against the law in the United Kingdom; the punishment he received for his sexual orientation contributed to his suicide in 1947.

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Who Was Alan Turing?
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Full Answer

One of Turing's greatest achievements came when he was working at Bletchley Park during World War II. This facility housed the United Kingdom's best codebreakers and cryptologists. Turing was instrumental in building a machine that could figure out ciphers for Nazi Germany's advanced Enigma encryption machine. While Turing did not completely crack the Enigma code, his efforts greatly aided the Allied war effort.

Turing is also remembered for creating the Turing machine. Contrary to the name, the Turing machine is not an actual physical device but rather a theoretical construct. The Turing machine consisted of a "head" which performed calculations and controlled other aspects of the machine. In this way, many consider the Turing machine the first example of a modern computer, even though an actual working device was never built.

Because of his homosexuality, Turing was forced to take estrogen injections by the British government to eliminate any sexual desire. These injections, along with the ostracism and humiliation he faced, led Turing to commit suicide by ingesting cyanide.

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