Last week, on June 23, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of British mathematician Alan Turing, arguably one of the greatest minds of the 20th century and widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Among his many achievements, Turing played a critical role as a codebreaker in World War II, devising a number of methods to crack ciphers set by the Enigma machine for use in German naval strategy.
In the late 1940s, Turing developed the now-famous Turing Test– a method to test a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligence. Tragically, he wouldn’t live a decade past the end of World War II. As he was delving into studies on mathematical biology and pattern formation in nature, he was convicted of indecent relations with a 19 year old working class man from Manchester. Homosexuality was illegal at the time, and Turing was given a choice: imprisonment or hormonal treatment to reduce libido, also known as chemical castration. He chose the latter (not before writing a tragic letter to a friend that describes his thoughts on the impending plea) and continued to work up until he committed suicide on June 7, 1954, a few weeks shy of his 42nd birthday.
While it’s impossible to estimate the type of contributions Turing would have made to the field of mathematics had he lived, his legacy exists in the computers and technology that we use on a daily basis. Turing’s contributions to mathematics is unveiled in a Gresham College lecture designed to appeal to both scholars and laypeople alike.