Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Enigma

I have been fascinated by the story of Alan Turing for many years.  He is a great unsung hero of the Second World War, and he has just recently begun getting some recognition for his genius. He's often forgotten because he was gay, convicted in England for gross indecency in 1962, and forced to take estrogen treatments to curb his sexuality.  He committed suicide two years later.  Below is an article from the Huffington Post Gay Voices:

Alan Turing's Biographer On The Truth About The Troubled Genius And His Tragic Death

By David Freeman

Sixty years after his tragic death, the brilliant English mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) has come back to life, if only virtually, in the new movie The Imitation Game.

The movie spotlights Turing's work as a codebreaker during World War II. That's a logical choice given his success in cracking a key German naval code known as Enigma.

The feat, which is believed to have shortened the war by at least two years and saved millions of lives, led Winston Churchill to say that Turing had made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory over the Nazis.

But if cracking Enigma was Turing's most tangible achievement, his greatest scientific legacy is his earlier theoretical work in the field now known as computer science. So says Andrew Hodges, the author of "Alan Turing: The Enigma," the newly republished 1983 Turing biography on which The Imitation Game was based.

"The thing that really singles him out is his theoretical work in the 1930s, published at the end of 1936 [in his famous paper On Computable Numbers], in which he brought up this idea of the universal Turing machine," Hodges says in a recent interview with The Huffington Post's senior science editor, David Freeman. "And he said, rather tantalizingly, we can now invent a machine...and that really is the generalized idea of the computer as we now know it."

Ultimately, the computer visionary and cryptanalyst--who was gay--broke not only the Enigma code but also the legal code of post-war England, which criminalized sexual contact between men. Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. Two years later, in the aftermath of harrowing estrogen treatments intended to curb his sexual impulses, he died of cyanide poisoning.

Some have argued that the poisoning was accidental. But Hodges said it was a suicide he had carefully planned to minimize the emotional pain felt by his survivors.

"He'd been using cyanide in this home chemistry experiment," Hodges, a mathematician at the Wadham College, Oxford University, says in the interview. "And I have no doubt at all that this experiment was there as a cover which allowed people, especially his mother, to believe that it was an accident."
Turing received a posthumous royal pardon on Dec. 24, 2013.


the dogs' mother said...

Raising a computer geek I also have always be fascinated who had a large part in saving us all and the appalling way he was treated. Sounds like he cared for and tried to spare his loved ones at the very end.

Amanda said...

What a sad way to be treated after helping tremendously in the war effort. I can only imagine how many people were treated that way or worse.

Jay M. said...

I've been to Bletchley Park where Turing did his work. It really brings him to life to see the office he worked in, the rebuilt computational machines they used to help break the codes, and the actual Enigma machines that were captured later in the war! Very, very cool!

Peace <3