Feeds

Manchester honours Alan Turing

Computer pioneer died 50 years ago today

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

The city of Manchester this morning honoured Alan Turing - the brilliant mathemetician and codebreaker who committed suicide 50 years ago today.

Manchester University is behind the ceremony which sees a blue plaque dedicated to Turing unveiled on the house in Adlington Road, Wilmslow, where - on 7 June 1954 - Turing ate a cyanide-laced apple.

Turing will be best remembered for his work on the German Enigma codes during his time at Bletchley Park, in addition to the thorny "Fish" cypher. Fish was eventually broken with the aid of Colossus in 1944. Turing was fascinated by artificial intelligence and the concept of the programmable single machine capable of handling any task, and by applying his intelligence to this concept he greatly contributed to the development of Bletchley's codebreaking machines and ultimately, the development of the modern computer concept.

In his personal life, Turing was less assured. At Bletchley he was known as "Prof" - an anarchic and socially-awkward man who eventually proposed marriage to colleague Joan Clarke, only to later retract the offer and admit to Clarke his homosexuality.

The post-war years saw Turing at Manchester University continuing his work - albeit sporadically - on machine code programming and related subjects. Sadly, he was never truly able to see his brilliant vision become a concrete reality, as the US moved apace towards the "modern" computer as we now know it.

In 1952, he was arrested and tried for a homosexual relationship with a young man from Manchester. Turing avoided prison by agreeing to have yearly oestrogen injections to control his libido - a savage punishment at a time that male homosexuality was illegal in Britain.

In fact, Turing's homosexuality had already cost him a secret post with with Bletchley's successor - GCHQ. In the chilly Cold War climate of 1948, his sexual orientation resulted in the loss of his security clearance. Left out in the cold, he bitterly resented his treatment at the hands of the security services, who continued to harrass him sporadically. In 1953, he was visited by police apparently looking for a Norwegian who had visited him - an incident widely believed to have been state-security inspired.

On 8 June, 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead in his bed. He had died the day before from eating an apple laced with cyanide. Some have attempted to build a conspiracy around the tragedy, although the coroner's verdict of "suicide" seems plausible.

Turing's legacy as one of the founders of computer science cannot be overestimated. For more on the man and his astonishing work, we recommend this site as a starting point. ®

Related stories

Statue of Turing spurned by US IT giants
Germans claim first programmable computer
Codebreaking Colossus returns to Bletchley Park
Codebreaker II Our winner reveals all

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
NASA eyeballs SOLAR HEAT BOMBS, MINI-TORNADOES and NANOFLARES on Sun
Astro boffins probe fiery star's hidden depths
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.