Growing up, I never really had heroes. When someone asked, people usually gave a family member or an athlete. These never really inspired me in the way I thought a hero should.
As I learned more about history, especially in mathematics, science and computers, I found that there were people whose achievements were insanely awesome. Moreover, I found heroes that contributed in huge ways to their fields in their lifetimes while being persecuted, challenged or mocked. These were people who accomplished things I can scarcely imagine even in a world that made their lives exceedingly difficult, even impossible.
Alan Turing was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He is widely considered to be the father of modern computer science and artificial intelligence.
Why was he badass?
During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. He was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised several techniques for breaking German code ciphers, including a machine that could figure out the settings for the German Enigma Machine. Turing decided to tackle the particularly difficult problem of German naval Enigma “because no one else was doing anything about it and I could have it to myself”.
After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE.
In 1948, Turing began writing a chess program for a computer that did not yet exist. In 1952, lacking a computer powerful enough to execute the program, Turing played a game in which he simulated the computer, taking about half an hour per move. In the recorded tests, his program won about half the games.
His Turing test was a significant and lasting contribution to the debate on artificial intelligence, which continues after more than half a century.
So, how did we thank him?
Turing, a homosexual, was charged with “gross indecency” in 1952, when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United Kingdom. He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison.
Turing died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. His death was most likely suicide.
In September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”.
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- slobaum said: Love Mr. Turing.
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- yellowcakeuranium said: Awesome, brilliant man, treated like fucking shit for being gay. Travesty, but at least the UK has admitted its error…
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