Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23: Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing
June 23, 1912 – June 7, 1954

Alan Turing, OBE, FRS was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist.

Turing is often considered to be the father of modern computer science. He provided an influential formalisation of the concept of the algorithm and computation with the Turing machine. Of his role in the modern computer, Time Magazine in naming Turing one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, states:
"The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine."

With the Turing test, meanwhile, he made a significant and characteristically provocative contribution to the debate regarding artificial intelligence: whether it will ever be possible to say that a machine is conscious and can think. He later worked at the National Physical Laboratory, creating one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE, although it was never actually built in its full form. In 1948, he moved to the University of Manchester to work on the Manchester Mark 1, then emerging as one of the world's earliest true computers.

During the Second World War, Turing worked at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre, and was for a time head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

Near the end of his life Turing became interested in chemistry. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis and he predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.

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