Feeds

Manchester honours Alan Turing

Computer pioneer died 50 years ago today

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.