Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who's that Queer?

Brought to you by Pistol Pete

Alan Mathison Turing 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 formalization of the concept of the algorithm and computation with the Turing machine. In 1999, Time Magazine named Turing as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century for his role in the creation of the modern computer, stating: "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, he made a significant and characteristically provocative contribution to the debate regarding artificial intelligence asking 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 Automated Computing Engine (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, known as Britain’s code-breaking center. Turing devoted much of his time to Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. As the department’s head, he devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers.

Turing was homosexual, living in an era when homosexuality was considered a mental illness and homosexual acts were illegal. Subsequent to being outed, Turing was charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same crime that Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than fifty years prior. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents, and although Turing was never accused of espionage, his prosecution essentially ended his career. He died not long after from what was officially declared self-induced cyanide poisoning, although his mother (and some others) considered the circumstances of his death to be suspicious.

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