Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician and scientist who made significant contributions to the fields of computer science, cryptography and what eventually became artificial intelligence.
He was also homosexual, for this he was persecuted by the German regime during the Second World War. Despite everything, he discovered extraordinary things and is therefore considered one of the fathers of AI, and his work has had a lasting impact on the ground.
There is a reason why he was able to continue his studies. If he had not been discouraged by discrimination and had not wasted his talent with absurd excuses. He did not throw his great passion to the wind.
Later I will summarize what made this man great. We can all be talented and have vocations, but only a few men leave their mark on history. Whoever is determined to do so does it against all odds.
Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912 in Paddington, London. His father, Julius Turing, was a member of the Indian civil service.
His mother, Ethel Sara Stoney, came from a wealthy family. Alan had an older brother John. When he was only 1 year old, Alan’s family moved to Guildford in Surrey.
There he attended Hazelhurst Preparatory School and later Sherborne School. At school he developed his interest in mathematics and science. It was in these years that he began to show the first signs of homosexuality.
In 1930 Alan Turing began studying mathematics at King’s College Cambridge.
There he became friends with the mathematician David Champernowne. With him he developed the constant Champernowne.”
He later graduated with honors and was elected a fellow of King’s College. He remained there until 1935, when he moved to Princeton University in the United States to continue his studies.
While at Princeton, Turing became interested in cryptology and began work on formalizing algorithms.
In 1936 he published his first article on the subject, entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.”
The article introduced the concept of the Turing machine, a hypothetical device that could simulate any computable process.
“The work had a great impact on both the academic and practical fields of cryptography.”
Basically his works laid the foundations for the field of information technology.
From 1936 to 1938 Alan Turing worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. There he met Kurt Gödel, with whom he had long conversations on mathematics and logic.
These conversations would later have a major influence on his work in the field of artificial intelligence.
In 1938 Turing returned to England. He began working for the Government Code and Cypher School, the British organization responsible for cracking German codes during World War II.
“Turing’s work was crucial for the Allied victory over the Axis powers. He helped develop a machine called Bombe, which was used to decrypt German messages encrypted with Enigma machines.”
The bomb was based on an earlier design by Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski. But it was Turing who perfected the machine and made it operational.
The bomb was so effective that it is estimated to have shortened the war from two to four years.
During the war, Turing also worked on the development of the first computers. In 1945 he published a document entitled “Proposed Electronic Calculator.” The article described a machine that could be used to perform complex mathematical calculations.
The machine was never built, but it was the first design of a programmable computer.
After the war, Alan Turing returned to his research on artificial intelligence. In 1950 he published a paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”
In the paper, he proposed the famous Turing test as a way to determine whether a machine can truly be considered intelligent.
The test is still used today as a benchmark for artificial intelligence.
In 1952 Alan Turing was convicted of homosexuality, which was then a crime in the UK. He was given the choice between prison or chemical castration. He chose the latter and underwent hormone therapy for two years.
The treatment had a profound effect on his health and mental state. In 1954, Turing’s housekeeper found him dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple by his side. Cause of death was cyanide poisoning.
Turing’s life was cut short by the tragedy, but his legacy lives on. He is considered one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century and one of the fathers of computer science.
As I wrote above, in 1950 Alan Turing published the document titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”
What was it? This is the gist of his AI project. It is also the reason that led him to overcome – at least in part of his life – the difficulties related to his sexual choices.
Alan was moved by powerful and profound questions. His research work and continuous studies were prompted by questions that concern the whole of humanity. Whoever accepts this cause stops at nothing. He has an ideal inside that is stronger than money, power, and fame.
In the article, he proposed the famous Turing test as a way to determine if a machine could really be considered intelligent.
It is still used today as a benchmark for artificial intelligence.
The Turing test consists of three parts:
1. The interrogator (who never clarified whether it was a man or a machine) asks questions to two hidden subjects, one human and one machine.
2. The interrogator then tries to determine which subject is the machine and which the man, based on their answers.
3. If the interrogator cannot figure out which one it is, then the machine is said to have passed the test and is considered intelligent.
Turing himself was not optimistic about the possibilities of machines to become truly intelligent.
“I believe that by the turn of the century the use of words and the general educated opinion will have changed so much that we can talk about machines that think without expecting to be contradicted.”
Turing’s predictions on artificial intelligence have proved themselves amply accurate.
In the 60 years since his death, great strides have been made in the field of AI. But we are still a long way from creating a machine that is indistinguishable from a human being.
The prehistoric computer model he had designed was based on the Automatic Computing Engine.
Basically, as you saw from his test above, a question arises that will be very useful in the development of artificial intelligence:
“To what extent can we consider a machine capable of thinking?”
The test, as you have seen, concludes with an assumption: if you are not able to distinguish between the two intelligences, it means the difference between a human brain and an artificial one risks being much more subtle than you think.
This is a question that we continue to ask ourselves today. It’s creepy, but we’ll have to deal with it.
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