Saturday, June 23, 2012

Alan Turing (1912-1954)

Alan Turing
Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, remembering his incredible life and mourning his tragic death. Alan Turing simply asked how does a mathematician solve problems. He developed such a simple model, now called the Turing machine, that so perfectly captures computation and years later would be the right model to capture computational complexity.

Alan Turing did so much more, codebreaker, computer builder and developer of his test of intelligence, that he so richly deserves the title "father of computer science". But it is the Turing machine that gives us the right notion of computation, both formal and intuitive and the foundation for a whole new research field.

A week ago ACM honored Turing by bringing together 32 recipients of the Turing Award, the highest honor in computer science. An incredible retrospective on Turing's influence on computer science from those who best followed in Turing's footsteps. You can celebrate the day by watching the webcast. I recommend the panel sessions on the Turing Computation Model and the Algorithmic View of the Universe. Just seeing these great theorists on stage together is a treat.

Today I have to privilege to celebrate Turing's legacy in Cambridge, England, where the Computability in Europe conference ends its meeting at King's College of Cambridge University. Turing was an undergraduate at King's College when he developed the computational model and wrote his truly classic paper. Everyone should read Chapter 9 where Turing gives an amazing argument why his model captures computation.

Thank you Alan. The world computes because of you.


  1. I think it was wrong to omit the circumstances of his "tragic death": that he was openly gay, persecuted by the British government and forced to be chemically castrated. Despite arguments to the contrary, there is strong evidence that this drove him to his suicide.

    I think its invaluable to point this out every time we commemorate his contributions. He was a martyr: a symbol of the countless LGBT individuals who have suffered and continue to suffer.

    1. About "continue to suffer", at least in the Western world today the discussion is about whether same-sex marriages should be registered, rather than whether gay people should be allowed to exist. So things are much better now. Still I agree that the circumstances of Turing's death (about the greatest demonstration of ingratitude in modern human history) should be remembered so as not to go back there.

    2. Not to make this too political, but there was the recent (and possibly still ongoing) movement in Uganda about killing all homosexuals. Let me see if I can find a link to's a story entitled, "Uganda is sanctioning gay genocide", and much of the motivation comes from places like the United States.

      I'm not saying that the situation is the same as Turing's, but lets not act like we've developed into a Utopian society just yet either.

  2. A big cheers in the name of Alan Turing, the father of computer science.Still a lot is to be done to contribute and we should all unite together strongly to increase the reach of computer science and mathematics education to the whole world, especially in the poverty ridden and underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia.Well, I was one of the student scholars (SIGACT) who attended the Turing Centenary Celebration a few days ago and it was a great experience for me to understand Turing as a man and to learn about the harsh societal treatment given to him.
    Thank you Turing, we have computers because of you.May the whole humankind remember him forever as a great scientist and a war-hero.