Alan Turing

Alan Turing
Alan Turing

Alan Turing was an English mathematician who is regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. He is renowned in the computer science community, but he remains unknown by much of the general public. Here are just a few interesting facts about this truly remarkable man:

  • In his early 20’s, he developed the Turing machine, an imaginary device consisting of an infinitely-long tape divided into cells, a way to read and write symbols on the tape and move the tape left and right, a finite set of instructions, and some sort of memory to store the state of the machine. With this simple machine, one can simulate the logic of any mathematical concept or computer algorithm.
  • He built a machine that cracked German ciphers during World War II.
  • After the war, he was arrested for homosexuality (illegal in Britain at the time) and underwent chemical castration.
  • He came up with a way to determine whether or not a machine is intelligent, known as the Turing test. In a Turing test, a human converses with machines and other humans (unaware of which he/she is conversing with). If the human is unable to tell a machine from a human, the machine is believed to be intelligent. There is an annual competition known as the Loebner Prize that uses the Turing test to award chatterbots for human-like behavior.

If you are interested in learning more about Alan Turing, Radiolab did a podcast on him called “The Turing Problem” yesterday.