Episode #6 of the course “Greatest Mathematicians”
British mathematician Alan Turing’s life and story are so renowned that he has had both a bestselling novel written about him as well as an Oscar-winning film depicting his life. During World War II, he helped crack a German cipher called the Enigma machine, which eventually helped the Allies win the war. Many scholars estimate that Turing’s work shortened the war by as many as four years, saving millions of lives in the process.
Born in 1912 in London, Turing attended King’s College, Cambridge University as an undergraduate and received a Ph.D. from Princeton University in logic, algebra, and number theory. Turing was also a homosexual during a time when such behavior was illegal in the UK. He was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952 and elected for chemical castration instead of prison. In an apparent suicide, he died two years later from cyanide poisoning.
Turing is often referred to as the father of computer science and one of the foremost cryptanalysts the world has ever known. His work at Bletchley Park during the war produced five major advances in the field of cryptanalysis.
In his 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers,” Turing proved that a universal algorithmic method of determining truth in math cannot exist. That same paper also introduced the “Turing machine,” the data from which is widely acknowledged as the foundation of research in artificial intelligence. The central concept of the modern computer was based on Turing’s paper, a legacy that will certainly last for a long time.
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