2012 IS THE “TURING YEAR,” the fixed point in time when on the centenary of his birth, the world celebrates the fact that Alan Turing — British mathematician, codebreaker, computing and artificial-intelligence pioneer — is a genius for all time. His age would have been 100 today, but my, he is one for the ages.
Google honors Turing today as one would its own great relation and ancestor. Andrew Eland, Google UK’s engineering director, calls Turing “the father of modern computing” on the tech company’s official blog. “It’s no exaggeration to say,” Eland writes, “he’s a founding father of every computer and Internet company today.”
Google has actively honored its intellectual father, working to preserve Turing’s papers and help mount a just-opened London exhibition devoted to the polymath’s “life and legacy.”
■1912 — Alan Mathison Turing is born June 23 in London. While his parents live in India (his father works for the Indian Civil Service.till 1926), Alan and his brother are fostered in several homes in England.
■13 — Age at which he enters the famed Sherborne School. Writes a headmaster: ”If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school.”
■1930 — Turing’s boyhood friend Christopher Morcom dies; it’s believed this was Turing’s first love. Morcom’s death sparks Turing’s intellectual journey into physics.
■1931 — Enters King’s College, Cambridge, where he would study and then teach for years.
■24 — The age at which Turing presents his paper “On Computable Numbers,” which introduces the concept of “algorithms” and the Turing machine proof, becoming the basis for the modern theory of computability. His ideas on this universal machine are the intellectual launch-pad for the modern computer.
■1938-39 — Turing returns to England and begins to work on cryptanalytics at the Governnment Code and Cypher School. By the end of 1939, working at Bletchley Park, he would begin to crack the Nazis’ “unbreakable” Enigma code — as his mathematical brilliance has real-world consequences, helping to save thousands of lives and perhaps shortening World War II.
■1945 — London’s National Physical Laboratory recruits Turing, who designs the Automatic Computing Engine; his “ACE” isn’t built, however, as the NPL favors a lower-memory computer.
■1950 — He proposes the “Turing test” of artificial intelligence, to judge whether a machine “thinks.”
■1951 — Turing is elected as fellow of the Royal Society.
■39 — The age at which Turing is arrested and tried for gross indecency because of his relationship with a Manchester man; Turing becomes outspoken about his homosexuality. He chooses estrogen treatments (a form of chemical castration) over prison time. Some say the treatments take a heavy toll on him not only physically, but mentally.
He also is stripped of his security clearance.
■41 — On June 7, 1954, at age 41, Turing dies; the coroner calls it a suicide by cyanide poisoning. According to lore, Turing bit into a cyanide-laced apple (the 1996 BBC biopic “Breaking the Code” even makes allusions to Snow White), but some say he ate the fruit simply to counter the poison’s bitter taste.
■2009 — Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologizes for the British government’s postwar treatment of Turing — but there still is no pardon.
■2012 — In what is declared the “Turing year,” the great man and mind is celebrated the world over.