Personality of Alan Turing
“Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible.”
A brain brimming with abstract speculations and imaginary machines. A body full of amazement and wonder of the technology around. A man with a passion for finding logical solutions. Alan Turing was the complete package of the three. He existed in a world of logic and reasoning with ideas several years above the rest of the world. The machines inspired by Alan Turing serve as the basis for our computers today. This code breaking war hero is now considered to be the father of computer science.
“A very large part of space-time must be investigated, if reliable results are to be obtained.”
The Awkward Genius that is Alan Turing
If you were to ask a historian or someone now what Alan Turing was like, they might say he’s an intellectual genius. If you were to ask someone close to him – someone who knew him, they might describe him as extremely intelligent, but very socially awkward. He had a deep desire to find logical solutions to puzzles and questions and viewed the world in a very logical and orderly way.
If Alan Turing were to visit a doctor now for a mental diagnostic, he might be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Aspergers is a neurodevelopmental disorder on the Autism spectrum. There are six standard criteria that most psychiatrists and doctors use to measure and determine if someone has Aspergers:
The first criterion is having a hard time with social interactions, or severe impairment in understanding social cues and norms. When it comes to Alan Turing, he was often described as anti-social in school, as well as later in his adult life. He often found mathematics much more interesting than other human beings, and when he worked with a team of people, it was very challenging for him to be a member or leader of the team. He was extremely introverted and lived in his head most of the time.
The second criterion is having an all-absorbing narrow interest. Turing found his point of interest deep within the mathematical and scientific realm. When he worked on a project, he dove all in. He usually wound up so laser-focused on each project that he would often stay up days at a time and work through the night. He hated studying the classics in school, and often just wouldn’t. He’d refuse to do work that other children in school were doing, and instead spend his time teaching himself mathematical theories and understanding complicated problem solving.
The third criterion is problems with nonverbal communication. Check out a photograph of Turing and notice his standoffish and stony gaze. He often had awkward interactions with others around him and had a difficult time reading facial expressions, passive-aggressive behaviours, and body language. Because he viewed the world in a very logical way, it was difficult for him to decipher meanings behind what people said to him, unless they meant exactly what they said. Because of his logic based thinking, it was difficult for him to make decisions off of human emotion alone.
The fourth criterion is very routine-oriented behaviour and imposing it heavily on themselves or others. Turing was known to be routine oriented in his work efforts and expected similar efforts from his team. When he was a child, he had to eat his meals a certain way, making sure no food of different groups touched one another.
The fifth criterion is blundering motor functioning. Turing had notoriously awful handwriting and was known to continually spill things on himself such as ink from a pen. He often fumbled his hands around when he was thinking as well as pacing at different speeds when thinking.
The sixth and final criterion is speech and language complications. Turing did have a relatively high pitched voice, though that hardly constitutes a language problem. He had a stutter and often took his time to find the right words to mitigate his stutter. Later in life, radio producers would go on to say he was a complicated person to interview. He often took what people said to him in the most literal sense possible, and sometimes wouldn’t even communicate at all unless it was through the form of mathematical analysis.
There really is no way of knowing if Turing had Aspbergers syndrome or not, as it is rather difficult to diagnose without asking more in-depth and targeted questions. However, there is evidence there to support this theory.
There is no question about the level of intellect Turing exudes. He is deeply passionate about solving problems and finding answers, which undoubtedly shaped his entire life.
Meyer Briggs Personality Type
With all the information on Alan Turing as well as his personal journals, it could be concluded that he has the Meyer Briggs personality type of ISTJ. Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judgement. One of the rarest personality types with only 13% of people having this personality.
This is commonly thought of as the organiser personality type. An ISTJ person is someone who enjoys structure in their lives and has a list of goals and high expectations for themselves. Turing was a very detail-oriented person and was very careful about his approach to situations. ISTJ people tend not to jump the gun; they enjoy knowing things before speaking them into reality. ISTJ people are known to analyse problems before making assumptions or assertions.
Turing was extremely task-oriented, and always had a project to work on, usually alone. He seemed to think others slowed him down and really enjoyed controlling his own environment. When there were more people on a project or team, things might have felt out of control for Turing. ISTJ people typically have little or no patience for indecisive and lazy behaviour.
Because of his logic and mathematical oriented brain, Turing saw most everything as a problem that could be solved. ISTJ personalities do not enjoy being challenged with inaccuracy. In fact, it drives them crazy. It might even infuriate them when people are late.
Turing was devoted to any task he was set out to accomplish and worked hard at every job he had. ISTJ personality types are naturally hard working people and enjoy devotion to their jobs. They love having responsibility and completing tasks.
Alan Turing is a person of deep thinking and extensive planning. He has a well developed mindset about his work skills, and is an incredible planner. Some might even call Turing a visionary, as he was able to build things in his mind that didn’t at the time exist within the realms of reality. He has ideas that are decades advanced, and does the work to bring them to fruition. He works effectively and efficiently. Turing had an incredible memory, and demonstrated advanced intellectual skills all throughout his life.
Driven through intellect and logic, Turing’s quick brain was well suited for any problem solving that might float his way. Alan’s life work was dedicated to creating tools that would lead to the evolution and advancement of our society and species as a whole.
“I have had a dream indicating rather clearly that I am on the way to being hetero, though I don’t accept it with much enthusiasm either awake or in the dreams.”
Alan Turing was a homosexual man. He started to really align with his sexuality at King’s College, as the school environment surrounding him was more liberal and progressive.
At this time, being homosexual and acting on it was entirely against the law in Britain. If homosexuals were caught in the act, they were often convicted of “gross indecency” and might even have to suffer through “chemical castration” where the government puts them on hormones and drugs in order to medicate the gay out of them.
Therefore, a major part of Turing’s identity was stifled most of his life. He held this massive secret within, a secret that was a big part of him. He was unable to truly be himself, for it was against the law. This would ultimately contribute to his unforeseen death.
“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
Alan Turing’s early years – A Child Prodigy.
Alan Turing was born in the buzzing city of London in 1912 to Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara Turing. During his childhood, his mother began to notice how anti-social Alan was. When he was six years old, he was enrolled in a day school called St Michael’s. It was there where his teachers began to notice his talents, as well as his anti-social behaviour. He was described as being fascinated with puzzles and building things, but had no interest in other children or playing outside.
With his head often floating in the clouds of a day-dream, it was extremely difficult for Alan to socialise with other children. In 1921, his mother took him out of his pre-preparatory school and taught him herself until it was time to join his older brother, John Turing, at a boarding school named Hazelhurst. Alan was the youngest in the school and found comfort in creating unique origami art in all shapes and sizes, such as frogs, donkeys, and even an extravagant paper kettle.
When he was 13, he attended a different school called Sherborne. On his first day of school, it was the same day as the 1926 General Strike, so transportation was very limited. However, Alan was determined to get to school, so he rode his bike the 60 miles it took to get there. It was there where he really started to find passion in the field of science and math. To the surprise of his chemistry teacher, Turing created his own home-brewed iodine. He was always doing things like this, getting his hands on as much scientific innovation he could find. He began to neglect his other work, such as writing and reading and spent the majority of time creating and learning about science. Many of his teachers complained about him, and his English teacher stated,
“I can forgive his writing, though it is the worst I have ever seen, and I try to view tolerantly his unswerving inexactitude and slipshod, dirty, work, inconsistent though such inexactitude is in a utilitarian; but I cannot forgive the stupidity of his attitude towards sane discussion on the New Testament.”
He was able to solve complex mathematical problems without having ever been taught. However, because of his attention to mathematics, he received horrible grades in other areas, worrying his parents to no end.
Because Sherborne placed emphasis on learning the classics such as Greek or Roman literature, Latin, and philosophy, it is no surprise that Turing was the odd-ball out. In fact, this is an excerpt from a letter Turing’s headmaster sent to his parents,
“I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school.”
This really didn’t inspire Alan to care much about the classics, as he propelled even further into studies of mathematics and science each day.
Alan Turing’s Family
Alan’s parents, Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara Turing, were very much in love. Julian worked in the Indian Civil Service, a
reputable government job. They lived in Britain India for a while but after John, their oldest son got sick from cow’s milk, they decided to move to Britain and raise both boys there. However, they could not just put their jobs on hold so they had to travel quite a bit. When they did, the boys would stay in foster homes for the duration of their absence.
Turing was the youngest sibling, having one older brother. Alan and his brother were always close, and had a special bond. His brother was far more outgoing and social than he, yet he would always try to include Alan in most of the things he did. Since his mother and father were gone often, Alan would spend a good amount of time alone which he grew to love.
Growing up in a supportive family, this introverted boy was nourished and inspired to challenge himself. His parents were always supportive of his endeavours, and although they worried about him at school, they had his best interests in mind. He was able to fully explore mathematics without judgement or critique, which allowed him to flourish.
“Finding such a person makes everyone else appear so ordinary…and if anything happens to him, you’ve got nothing left but to return to the ordinary world, and a kind of isolation that never existed before.”
Christopher Mercom, Alan’s first love.
It was at Sherborne where Turing first met Christopher Mercom, a boy who’s effect on Alan would ripple into a massive influence. Christopher was kind, intelligent, and always there as a friend for Alan. They developed a deep and powerful friendship that Alan had never known was possible. He was speculated to be Turing’s first romantic love, although Christopher might not have known about that. Unfortunately, Christopher’s life was cut short as he passed away from bovine tuberculosis in February 1930.
Turing was absolutely devastated. The only way he knew how to deal with his own grief and loss was to throw himself fully into his work. After Mercom’s death, Turing continued a long and fruitful relationship with Mercom’s mother. They exchanged letters ever so often, especially on Christopher’s birthdays. In one letter in this excerpt is found,
“I am sure I could not have found anywhere another companion so brilliant and yet so charming and unconceited. I regarded my interest in my work, and in such things as astronomy as something to be shared with him and I think he felt a little the same about me … I know I must put as much energy if not as much interest into my work as if he were alive, because that is what he would like me to do.”
He also wrote to Mercom’s mother about spirit and esoteric ideology that he had a hard time grasping at since the death of Christopher. It’s not to say Alan didn’t believe in anything, but his spirituality seemed to take a significant hit with the death of his first love, and after that, he never put too much into the idea of religion.
Alan Turing at King’s College
After Sherborne, Turning was awarded a scholarship of £80 a year as well as a grant from Sherborne of £50 a year to study mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge. Although he was shy and awkward, his love for numbers propelled him forward into the world of higher education. He started there in 1931 and studied there until 1934.
Alan thrived at King’s College. Not only was he able to devote his energy and brain into mathematics, but he was also able to express himself and his sexuality within this liberal atmosphere. He didn’t have to keep his sexuality a secret anymore and was very open about it with his friends at King’s College. It was at King’s College where he really started to get into machinery work, and developed a fascination for taking machines apart and trying to reassemble them in an even more functional way.
It was there where he was awarded first-class honours in mathematics. His passion for probability and logic turned into an extended stay at King’s College. Because of his extraordinary work and research on probability theory otherwise known to Turing as the Gaussian Error Function, he was elected to a fellowship at King’s College in 1935.
“My little computer said such a funny thing this morning.”
In 1935, Turing went to a lecture series on the Foundations of Mathematics by Max Newman. It was there he learned about the Entscheidungsproblem, otherwise known as the decision problem. The Entscheidungsproblem asks the following question: Is there an algorithm that takes, as input, a statement written in formal logic, and produces a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that’s ALWAYS accurate? This question was just the thing to spring Turing to life. His desire to solve problems through logic drove him forward to fully focus on finding out a solution.
Turing poured his attention into this decision problem and worked diligently from 1935 to 1937 to find the answer. Turing argued first that it could not be solved by a human, but then, because he did not think in the way other mathematicians did, his logical thinking spurred on high alert. Turing had the idea to create a machine that could be constructed to calculate any hypothetical number. He approached problems from a deep place of logic, which led to him thinking about various types of logical mechanisms such as clocks or computing machines.
Turing wrote a paper titled “On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” This paper was published in two separate parts in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society journal and became the foundation for computer science.
The Entscheidungsproblem served as the starting point for the Turing machine, a hypothetical computing machine that could take a set of variables and produce a result following a list of regulations programmed into the system. Turing machines provide a simple, yet an effective mathematical model of computation. They are designed to have a long memory tape which is able to store symbols. Within the Turing Machine is a read-write head which can read, write, and modify the symbols on the memory tape. There’s also a state variable, in which a piece of information can be held about the current state of the machine, as well as a set of rules that describes exactly what the machine does as well as the current symbol the head is reading. This was the starting point for the computer systems we use every single day.
This renowned mathematician played a leading role in the mathematical development of Alan Turing. When it came to the Entscheidungsproblem, his work and findings preceded Turings, but his theory served as the basis for Turing’s problem solving. Church developed lambda calculus, a system of mathematical expressions that demonstrated no such algorithm as posed in the Entscheidungsproblem could actually exist.
In terms of functioning power, the Turing machine and lambda calculus were functionally equivalent.
Turing considered Church to be a mentor, and the result of their combined work on the Entscheidungsproblem would become the Church-Turing Thesis describing that with the use of lambda calculus plugged into a machine, it is possible for the machine to compute these equations. Church later went on to describe Alan’s personality as “a loner, and a little bit odd.”
Alan Turing at Princeton
After his extensive research on the Entscheidungsproblem, Turing decided that he was going to study at Princeton University in 1936 under the guidance of Alonzo Church. At the time, there was no such thing as a computer science department at Princeton University or any other school for that matter. It was at Princeton where Turing first stepped into the realm of cryptography.
In cryptography, Turing found a sort of peace within the puzzle solving. He loved finding solutions and began to enjoy cryptography as a hobby. He started his work on a binary multiplier, an electronic circuit that can be programmed into a computer system and is used to multiply two binary numbers.
His paper ‘Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals’, published in 1939, was developed at Princeton University under the guidance of Alonzo Church. It introduced the concept of ordinal logic.
Turing’s hard work and dedication to the scientific field of cryptography earned him his PhD from Princeton University.
Alan’s adult relationship with his mother
Alan and his mother were very close. They would always be writing letters to each other, and were in constant communication. The hardest part of their relationship was his ability to be open with her about his sexuality. She did not necessarily approve of his sexuality, as Alan writes in one letter to literary scholar and good friend Nick Furbank,
“Mother has been staying here, and we seem to be getting on a good deal better. I have been subjecting her to a good deal of sexual enlightenment and she seems to have stood up to it very well. There was a rather absurd dream I had the other night in which I asked mother’s opinion about going to bed with some men and she said: ‘Oh very well, but don’t go walking about the place naked like you did before.”
“Codes are a puzzle. A game, just like any other game.”
Enigma / Ultra
Because of his mathematical skills, Turing was recruited to the Government Codes and Cypher School in September 1939.
It was there where he learned about Enigma, formally called Ultra.
Enigma was a code device created by the Germans. It was designed and used before World War II even began. The idea behind Enigma was simple – to transmit coded messages that only the Germans could decipher. When one button was pushed on the keyboard of the Enigma machine, it was encoded by another button or letter and sent out as the coded message. Inside the machine, there are internal routers that transform the letter pressed into another letter. If a letter ‘A’ is pressed, it might come out of the routers as a ‘U’.
However, it would be far too simple a code if each letter corresponds to another letter, so the internal routers in the machine were constantly changing each letter making it nearly impossible to decode all the possible combinations. The German military could communicate with each other using the coded messages within Enigma. These encrypted codes were sent over the radio broadcasting system and were known as “traffic.” They used Enigma to destroy and conquer hundreds and hundreds of military supply ships.
Before Turing arrived at Bletchley Park, there were three Polish mathematicians developing a machine called the Bomba to break Enigma. Simply speaking, they were trying to replicate the Enigma machine and Under the leadership of Marian Rejewski, a Polish mathematician, they were able to break the enigma code. However, their information would prove to be invaluable as the Germans were continually upgrading Enigma, and it seemed to be a completely different machine at the beginning of World War II. The Germans also reset the cypher system every single day, so the coding would change completely every 24 hours.
Each day, there was a possibility of 157,000,000,000,000,000,000 different combinations. Each night, a reset. The Poles passed along all the information they had to the British. Alan Turing enters the scene, as he is the perfect person for the job. He loves puzzles, codes, and mathematics. All three of these things were needed to crack the Enigma code.
“A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.”
Alan Turing at Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park. A beautiful old fashioned Victorian mansion with living huts all around the quarters. At first glance, it seems like an estate that a wealthy family would inhabit. At closer look – it was the centre of allied code breaking during World War II. Bletchley park was the code breaking epicenter, and you’d never know by the atmosphere of the place.
Between January 3rd and January 6th 1939, there was an introduction course to codebreaking of which Alan was a part of, marking him as a potential codebreaker to the British military at the time.
Those recruited to Bletchley Park were people of many different backgrounds. You’d easily run across linguists, archaeologists, chess champions, and even crossword puzzle enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, not many mathematic experts were recruited, suggesting that the British considered cryptography as more of a classical puzzle solving art than a math problem.
Those recruited to Bletchley Park, including Turing, had to sign a document based on the Official Secrets Act. In short – they were sworn to secrecy. If they were to disclose anything to anyone other than the team they were working with, they would face severe criminal charges.
Between January 1939 and September 1939, Turing went back to Cambridge but began working on the enigma problem under the leadership of chief codebreaker at Bletchley at the time: Dilly Knox. Dilly Knox had been a renowned codebreaker during World War I.
Turing began working full-time at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. Bletchley Park is a top secret government and military organisation where work was carried out in order to crack German and german allies military codes.
It’s springtime in 1940, and all the birds are chirping at Bletchley Park. They’re not the only ones chirping around; Alan Turing is busy continuing his work on improving the Polish bombe machine in Cottage 2 under Dilly Knox’s Enigma Research Section. While most of the codebreakers were deciphering codes using paper and pencil, Turing had a different idea. He was set to prove that most of the reasoning within the human mind could be mechanised. In short, he hypothesised that a machine could be programmed to break a machine.
Alan’s frustration builds in 1941. By that time, he was working with Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. They worked tediously to build on the previous work from the Poles. They had a system in place, yet they had limited resources, staff, and equipment and were therefore unable to translate all the signals coming through at a rapid rate.
Turing breaks the rules to write Winston Churchill
It reached the point where Alan decided enough is enough. Let’s get Prime Minister Winston Churchill involved so maybe we can get some more funding. The team then wrote directly to Churchill, and that eccentric idea from Turing landed them the funding they needed. In no way was it allowed to write to the Prime Minister unless one was ranked higher in the military. However, Turing did. He and his associates stated,
“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention, no doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”
Churchill wrote to General Ismay, and it read: “ACTION THIS DAY. Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done.”
Because of this, hundreds of Bombes created by Turing and his team were activated and operational by the end of World War II.
Alan Turing and Hut 8
After designing the bombe in the spring of 1940, Turing became the leader of a small crew in Hut 8. The focus there was to solve the problem of the German naval Enigma, which had a far more complex indicator system used in other military communication services.
Hut 8 was partnered with another hut, Hut 4. Those at Hut 4 handled the translation analysis of those codes deciphered at Hut 8.
The list of people Turing worked with at Hut 8 goes as follows: Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, Michael Arbuthnot Ashcroft, Joan Clarke, Harry Golombek, I. J. Good, Rosalind Hudson, Charlie Bierman, F Anthony Kendrick, Leslie Lambert, Patrick Mahon, Rolf Noskwith, Richard Pendered, John H. Plumb, Shaun Wylie, Leslie Yoxall, and Judith Irene Bloomfield.
Interestingly enough, it is noted that many people enjoyed working with Alan. He was known to be friendly and kind and kept to himself. He was not demanding and never flaunted his leadership over the heads of others. He was quirky and eccentric, and people enjoyed that about him. They even coined a nickname for him, Prof.
It was there where he came up with the idea of Banburismus, a cryptanalytic process that utilised a sequential statistical technique to help break the German naval system. Turing also invented the ban, a measure of the weight of evidence that could automatically rule out specific sequences of the Enigma rotors, allowing for a massive reduction in the time testing all the settings on the bombes.
Because of Alan Turing’s leadership and innovation in Hut 8, the war ended two years earlier than it could have. The British military was also able to save and navigate hundreds of supply fleets to safety.
Intelligent, independent, and an incredible codebreaker, Joan Clarke was a cryptologist and codebreaker at Bletchley Park. Much like Turing, she grew up with a love and passion for mathematics. She also studied mathematics in college and loved cryptology. She worked with Turing in Hut 8 and they quickly developed a friendship and mutual respect for each other. They had similarities that no one else around them had. They were both outsiders in the social realm, and often turned to math and science as company. Turing would often arrange the shifts so that he and Joan could work together. They would play chess, puzzles, and even do some knitting together.
Joan climbed the ranks and demonstrated her knowledge and passion for mathematics. She was soon “one of the best Banburists in the section” as described by Hugh Alexander. In 1944, she became deputy head of Hut 8.
Alan and Joan developed such a close relationship that despite Alan’s sexual preferences, he proposed to her in 1941. He later admitted that he was homosexual to her, which didn’t alter their friendship in the slightest. The marriage never happened, as Turing broke it off later in the year. They remained close friends. Although he was never sexually attracted to her, Alan truly loved Joan.
After the war, Joan went on to work for Government Communications Headquarters, where she met her soon to be husband, Lieutenant-Colonel John Kenneth Ronald Murray.
“My little computer said such a funny thing this morning.”
The innovation pouring from Turing’s brain never seems to stop flowing. In July 1942, Turing created a technique named Turingery. This was a hand codebreaking method devised for use in cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher produced by teleprinter rotor stream cipher machines, or German secret writing machines. The process he invented was a method of wheel breaking, which worked through the cypher and cam settings.
Turing works with U.S. Navy Cryptanalysts
Turing’s help was needed everywhere it seemed. In November 1942, he travelled to the United States to work with the U.S. Navy cryptanalysts on bombe construction and Naval Enigma in Washington; He also helped develop secure speech devices at Bell Labs. He wasn’t happy at all about the American bombe design, and often expressed frustration when overseeing this project. After all, he’s one to solve problems and didn’t have the freedom to do that when he had to act as a guide.
“Research on ‘Delilah’ has been in progress since the beginning of May 1943. Up to now the work has all been concentrated on the unit for combining the key with the speech to produce cipher and for recovering the speech from the cipher with the aid of the key.”
Because Alan was always seeking to solve and looking at logical ways of approaching problems, his time spent at Bell Labs quickly led to his next endeavour. The telephone, it’s something we all live with and utilise every day. The telephone was important in the 1940s as well, but didn’t quite have the technology we see in modern cell phones today. Turing took an interest in the telephone and the functioning system of the telephone, as well as what he could do to expand upon it and make it a more useful tool. This led him to seek an innovation that would allow for electronic enciphering of speech in the telephone system.
Alan worked for the Secret Service’s Radio Security Service at Hanslope Park. Under the guidance of engineer Donald Bayley, he acquired more knowledge about electronics. They also designed and began to engineer a portable secure voice communications machine called Delilah. The completion of the project was too late for the war use, and was ultimately not chosen for use after Turing demonstrated the mechanical system to officials. Funny enough, he utilised a recording of Winston Churchill within the Delilah machine.
“I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'”
Alan Turing Post World War II
After the war, the city where he was born called him back. Turing was now living in London, and began working at the National Physical Laboratory. It was there where he worked diligently on the Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE. He created a blueprint for computers that store programs inside of their operating system. A foundational building block for this stored-program computer was Von Neumann’s first draft of a Report on the EDVAC.
There were many delays that led to the downfall of building of the ACE, and Turing was unable to complete a finished product of his design. Of course, Turing did not take lightly to failure. He went off to Cambridge for a sabbatical year. When he was there working on his paper Intelligent Machinery, those at the National Physical Laboratory continued work on the ACE. However, it was not completed until after Turing’s death.
In 1948, Turing worked at Victoria University of Manchester in the mathematics department. Not even a year later, he steps into the role of Deputy Director of the Computing Machine Laboratory. It is there where he is able to work on software of the world’s earliest stored-program computers. The computer was called the Manchester Mark 1 and Turing, with his love of organisation, wrote the first ever program manual for the stored-computer.
The Turing Test; a pioneer into the realm of Artificial Intelligence.
Turing’s mathematical brain and urge for answers never seemed to rest. He continued his exploration into the world of mathematics and began to question the idea of artificial intelligence. He created and proposed an experiment called the Turing test (Also called the imitation game) in 1950. Simply, the Turing test is a guide to determining if a machine or computer system is ‘intelligent’. He wanted to create a test to see if a machine’s level of computing was similar to a human’s level of computing. This concept was first introduced in his paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. In this paper, Turing wrote that instead of programming the machine to simulate the mind of a human adult, it would be more beneficial for the computer to go through a learning process, much like the human mind. Therefore, the machine should simulate the mind of a child with a course of education for the machine to process through.
The way the test works is, there are three participants, one evaluator and two partners. The evaluator is aware that one of the partners is a machine, yet has no idea which one. All participants are separated from each other, and the conversation is limited to a text screen. If the evaluator is unable to tell apart the machine from the human, the machine has passed the test.
Turing’s definition of ‘computability’ as talked about in the Turing test, is Artificial Intelligence, or AI today. This was the first ever framework design for a machine programmed to run a series of algorithms in order to solve a problem or complete a task.
Alan Turing mingles his love of chess with his love of machines.
His love of the game of chess inspired him to create a chess program for a computer system. Something like this was unheard of, and did not exist. Working closely with D.G. Champernowne, a former undergraduate colleague of his, they completed a program named Turochamp. However, computer programs in 1950 lacked the power needed for such a game system.
Alan Turing takes strides into the world of mathematical biology.
Resting was not something Turing was accustomed to. He would much rather spend his time working, problem solving, and experimenting with mathematics. At the age of 39, the field of mathematical biology piqued his interest, and it all started with his fascination with daisies. He was so awe-struck by the way these daisies grew and formed, that he began to question, of course, the mathematics behind their growth.
He dove deep into morphogenesis, otherwise known as the development of patterns and shapes in biological organisms. In simpler terms, it is the science of how things grow. He published a paper titled “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” in January 1952. In this paper, he termed the reaction-diffusion system, suggesting that a system of chemicals reacting with each other and diffusing across space, could account for “the main phenomena of morphogenesis”. Because he did not have nearly a powerful enough computer to calculate the rate of diffusions, he spent his time solving linear applications by hand, which was indeed a very tedious process.
“No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I’ve not found out”.
Trouble with the British Law
It was the same year that his masterpiece paper “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” was published.
1952, Turing was 39 years old. He was exclusively seeing a 19 year old man named Arnold Murray. It wasn’t until Turing’s home was burglarised on January 23rd that everything changed for Turing. Within the investigation of the burglary, it was found that Alan Turing was homosexual and had been seeing Arnold Murray. Turing admitted to the relationship and was charged with “gross indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.
The case was called Regina v. Turing and Murray and was brought to trial on March 31st, 1952. Turing entered a plea of guilty as advised by his own brother. He was convicted and had to choose between imprisonment and probation. The only way for him to undergo probation was to agree to take pills or injections given by the government in order to physical hormonal changes designated to reduce libido.
Because of his guilty conviction, he lost his job as a cryptographic consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters but kept his academic employment. He was also unable to go to the United States after he was convicted, but could still travel to other countries in Europe.
Alan’s push to keep working through the pain.
Alan didn’t allow for this chemical castration to slow him down. In fact, he dove even deeper into his work. It was clear to the people around him who cared about him that he was suffering from quite a bit of trauma, but he would not talk about it with anyone. He insisted on continuing his work, as if nothing happened. He would openly mock the law and talk about the absurdity of the government when it came to gay rights.
Alan Turing’s Death
June 8th, 1954. Turing’s housekeeper is preparing her day and getting ready for a day of housekeeping at Alan’s house. One she arrives at his house, everything changes.
She walked into his bedroom and found Alan laying in his bed. It was unlike Alan to sleep in, so maybe he wasn’t feeling well, she thought to herself. A half apple is on the side of his bed, which is odd because he usually eats the entire apple. As she takes a closer look, shock waves hit her like a ton of bricks.
He had died the previous evening, by cyanide poisoning. The apple by his bed was not tested for cyanide, but an inquest determined the cause of death was suicide. Some speculate that he was reenacting a scene from the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as it was one of his favourite movies.
Ever since he was forced to take “treatment” for his homosexuality, Turing had collapsed into a deep depression. Who could blame him; the contents of his physical body were being altered and changed in a detrimental way. It was a literal chemical castration. He was fighting to remain himself through the pain and anguish and lost the battle with depression.
He was cremated at the Woking Crematorium and just like his father’s ashes; his ashes were dispersed in the crematorium gardens.
The British government apologises for prosecuting Alan Turing.
It wasn’t until the year 2009 that a British programmer by the name of John Graham-Cumming took issue with Turing’s prosecution. He created a petition that was signed by over 30,000 people to demand an apology from the British government to Alan Turing.
The petition made a big splash in the British government. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, released a statement on September 10th 2009 apologising for the treatment of Turing,
“Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
In 2011, John Leech, a member of parliament at the time, created a petition that requested a pardon for the conviction Turing received of ‘gross indecency.” Two years later in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II finally signed a pardon for Turing’s conviction for “gross indecency”, effective immediately.
In September 2016, The “Alan Turing Law” was put into place. This means that other men convicted of the same “gross indecency” as Turing would soon be exonerated, and it would never be a conviction again in Britain.
What did others think of Alan Turing?
Mike Wooder was Alan Turing’s assistant in 1946 at the National Physical Laboratory. They were both very shy and never looked at each other directly in the eye.
Mike said this about Turing,
“People have said that Turing suffers fools badly, not gladly, and I’m sure this is because he thought if you were not attending to what he was saying, then of course he was wasting his time, and that didn’t please him at all. He was a bit impatient. But I found him a very pleasant companion. He and I got on awfully well. Partly because my father taught me mathematical logic as soon as I knew what he was talking about. And logic was of course the foundation of his studies.”
Captain Jerry Rogers was a codebreaking linguist at Bletchley Park from 1941 to 1945. He worked closely with Alan Turing to crack the Lorenz code.
He describes the first time he saw Alan Turing,
“I have a clear mental picture of Turing walking along the corridor of one of the huts at Bletchley park: middle height, clean shaven. He didn’t look at other people, his gaze was more or less fixed on the bottom of the wall, and he flicked the wall with his fingers. He was dressed in a somewhat untidy, brown sports jacket, and rather baggy grey trousers. He was not your typical Achilles figure, not a warrior king this man.”
Peter Hilton was a mathematician who worked with Turing at Bletchley. In his “Reminiscences of Bletchley Park” from A Century of Mathematics in America he talks about his experience working with Turing in Hut 8,
“It is a rare experience to meet an authentic genius. Those of us privileged to inhabit the world of scholarship are familiar with the intellectual stimulation furnished by talented colleagues. We can admire the ideas they share with us and are usually able to understand their source; we may even often believe that we ourselves could have created such concepts and originated such thoughts. However, the experience of sharing the intellectual life of a genius is entirely different; one realises that one is in the presence of an intelligence, a sensibility of such profundity and originality that one is filled with wonder and excitement. Alan Turing was such a genius, and those, like myself, who had the astonishing and unexpected opportunity, created by the strange exigencies of the Second World War, to be able to count Turing as colleague and friend will never forget that experience, nor can we ever lose its immense benefit to us.”
Jim Wilkenson, who was one of Turing’s assistant at Cambridge, described his experience working for Turing as this,
“It was impossible to work ‘half-time’ for a man like Turing and almost from the start the periods spent with the computing section were rather brief. The joint appointment did, however, have its useful aspect. Turing occasionally had days when he was ‘unapproachable’ and at such times it was advisable to exercise discretion. I soon learned to recognize the symptoms and would exercise my right (or, as I usually put it, ‘meet my obligations’) of working in the computing section until the mood passed, which it usually did quite quickly.”
Mathematician I.J. Good worked with Alan at Bletchley park in 1940. He described working with Alan Turing as such:
“When he attacked a problem he liked to start from first principles, and he was hardly influenced by received opinion. This attitude gave depth and originality to his thinking, and also it helped him to choose important problems. In discussions he was excitable, and his voice would rise to a high pitch, although he was not in the least quarrelsome. Between sentences he had a habit of saying ‘Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah …,’ which made it difficult to interrupt his line of thought, or even to have a line of thought of one’s own!”
Donald Bayley, an engineer on the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers worked at Hanslope Park with Turing, and described his first experience with Turing as such:
“He was a bit slapdash; I was very well-organised. I came into the hut, they said just see what’s what to start with. This chap had his shirt hanging out. There were resistors and capacitors, as fast as he’d soldered one on another would fall off. It was a spider’s nest of stuff – a complete mess. We made up a ‘breadboard’ sheet of plywood, you soldered between strips of metal, to make up the board. He hadn’t worked on it like that at all, soldered anyhow, and hoped they’d hold together. He was annoyed I mentioned his shirt hanging out. He took it for granted. He said I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”
“I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get out of my mind is by running hard.”
Alan Turing’s Quirks
This introverted and intelligent man had many quirks in life that made him stand out from a crowd. In the spring season, he often wore a gas mask to protect him from the surrounding allergens of the area.
He was running at an Olympic level.
Turing also enjoyed distance running and would even run 64 kilometres to London when he was called upon for meetings. He even tried out for the 1984 Olympics but ended up with a leg injury. His marathon time was only 11 minutes slower than Thomas Richards silver medal Olympic race. He also was a member of a few running clubs and won several races over the years. There is now an annual race that commemorates Alan Turing, known as the Turing Relay.
He was a shabby dresser.
He often looked rather scruffy and not very well put together. He almost never wore a tie and was almost always mistaken for an undergraduate student, well into his 30s. If he could’ve, he probably would’ve worn a t-shirt and jeans every single day.
He had an apple routine.
Every night before Alan Turing went to sleep, (that is if he did sleep that night), he indulged in an apple.
He kept his coffee mug on lock.
At work, Alan Turing would literally chain his coffee mug to the radiator so no one would take it away. Perhaps he was doing it for the benefit of himself, so he always knew where it was, as he knew he had a tendency to misplace things. Or perhaps, like many of us, he didn’t want his hot coffee stolen out from under his nose. Hard to say.
His bike chain was faulty, but he seemed to like it that way.
The chain of his bicycle would come off in regular intervals, but instead of having it completely fixed, he would count the number of times the pedals went round and would get off the bicycle so he could then adjust the chain by hand.
He enjoyed knitting.
During air-raids, Turing would be in the shelter knitting himself a pair of gloves. He had no pattern, just used his brain as a guide. He did have difficulty when it came to stitching up the fingers, so he would often have help with that part.
Alan Turing Commemoration
In Manchester, there is a statue of Alan Turing between the University of Manchester building on Whitworth Street and Canal Street. The label reads, “Father of Computer Science” as the statue depicts him holding an apple. At the statue’s feet, there is a plaque that reads ‘Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice’.
He was named one of the ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th century’ by Times magazine in 1999 and the article states, stated, “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.”
On the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee organized the Alan Turing Year, where there were events taking place worldwide to honor the life and accomplishments of Alan Turing.
Alan Turing Mottos
- “A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.”
- “A man provided with paper, pencil, and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.”
- “A very large part of space-time must be investigated, if reliable results are to be obtained.”
- “Codes are a puzzle. A game, just like any other game.”
- “Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes hollow.”
- “Finding such a person makes everyone else appear so ordinary…and if anything happens to him, you’ve got nothing left but to return to the ordinary world, and a kind of isolation that never existed before.”
- “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”
- “If a machine is expected to be infallible, it cannot also be intelligent.”
- “I’m afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future. Turing believes machines think Turing lies with men Therefore machines do not think.”
- “I have had a dream indicating rather clearly that I am on the way to being hetero, though I don’t accept it with much enthusiasm either awake or in the dreams.”
- “In the time of Galileo it was argued that the texts, ‘And the sun stood still … and hasted not to go down about a whole day’ (Joshua x. 13) and ‘He laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not move at any time’ (Psalm cv. 5) were an adequate refutation of the Copernican theory.”
- “Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain.”
- “Instruction tables will have to be made up by mathematicians with computing experience and perhaps a certain puzzle-solving ability. There need be no real danger of it ever becoming a drudge, for any processes that are quite mechanical may be turned over to the machine itself.”
- “It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers… They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.”
- “Machines take me by surprise with great frequency.”
- “Mathematical reasoning may be regarded…”
- “My little computer said such a funny thing this morning.”
- “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.”
- “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain…”
- “One day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, “My little computer said such a funny thing this morning”
- “Programming is a skill best acquired by practice and example rather than from books.”
- “Science is a differential equation. Religion is a boundary condition.”
- “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no-one can imagine.”
- “The Exclusion Principle is laid down purely for the benefit of the electrons themselves, who might be corrupted (and become dragons or demons) if allowed to associate too freely.”
- “The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.”
- “The original question, ‘Can machines think?’ I believe it to be too meaningless to deserve discussion.”
- “These disturbing phenomena [Extra Sensory Perception] seem to deny all our scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming.”
- “The works and customs of mankind do not seem to be very suitable material to which to apply scientific induction.”
- “Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible.”
- “Unless in communicating with it one says exactly what one means, trouble is bound to result.”
- “Up to a point, it is better to just let the snags [bugs] be there than to spend such time in design that there are none.”
- “We are not interested in the fact that the brain has the consistency of cold porridge.”
- “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
- “We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields.”
- “When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first… Of course, to observe is not its real duty, we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed…Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious.”