• Agents of Change

    • Turing’s sad story is gradually healing, and his contributions to the modern world are being justly appreciated. This is the story of a man that not only belonged to his time, but who was also an unquestionable architect of the future we live in today.

    Alan Turing and the mystery of the bitten apple / 

    It was only last December, almost sixty years after his death, that Queen Elizabeth II of England offered Alan Mathison Turing royal forgiveness, this British mathematician, cryptographer and philosopher, was sentenced to a process of chemical castration due to his open homosexuality.

    The international scientific community did not take the English Royal House’s announcement kindly, the absurd punishment which Turing was subjected to meant he never finished his studies in artificial intelligence, one of the many areas which he pioneered in and where his contributions continue to be of the utmost importance.

    Alan Turing became a prominent political figure during the Second World War, since he made a reputation for himself as one of the first hackers when he collaborated with the British government breaking the Enigma code that the Nazi army, navy and air force, used. Turing handed the Allies the deciphered messages, who were able to foresee several attacks because of it, which practically earned them the final win and enabled the end of the bellicose conflict two or four years earlier than expected, thus saving millions of lives (taking into account that during this war almost 7 million people lost their lives every year).

    His research in cryptanalysis allowed him to develop the first digital electronic programmable computer, named Colossus, in 1943. Later, in 1945, he designed the programmed storage computer which he could he could change, with a single command, from one task to the next, a feat that at the time was unimaginable, thus becoming the forefather of informatics.

    Turing began to ask himself if it would be possible to make a computer “think” for itself, and developed what we now know as the Turing Test with this purpose: if a human cannot tell the difference between the answers given by a human and a computer, the machine can be considered intelligent. Through the captchas (typographical automatized tests that many websites use to verify that the user is in fact human and not an IT program) which is used inversely used today, the computer tests us to see whether we are humans or not.

    Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954 because of the damages caused by the chemical castration: breasts, overweight and depression. He was found in his laboratory after he’d taken a bite from an apple laced with cyanide. Some believe that Apple’s bitten apple is a homage to the genius of modern informatics: a founding father so important that the AM Turing awards, the Nobel Prize of IT sciences, pay a deserved homage to the pioneer of the communications between humans and machines, and the world would undoubtedly be completely different if it wasn’t for his contributions.

    Tagged: Alan Turing, mathematicians, Agents of Change