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Alan Turing - Born On This Day in 1912

Posted in: Mathematics

Alan Turing OBE FRS was born in London on this day in 1912. Perhaps one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Turing is considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. 

Turing is, perhaps, best known for the work he carried out at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The codebreaking work he did here, including his work on breaking the Enigma codes, is said to have possibly shortened the war by four years. 

Turing’s genius was evident from a young age and he was particularly gifted in mathematics. He won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge to read maths, graduating with distinction. 

In 1936 Turing published ‘On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem’, a paper which is now considered the basis of computer science. This would eventually lead to the ‘Turing Machine’, a hypothetical machine able to simulate any computer algorithm, regardless of its complexity. 

Later, in 1950, he published another paper, this time on artificial intelligence. He wanted to determine whether computers could ‘think’ and proposed the use of an ‘imitation game’ to compare computer power to that of human thought.  This became known as the ‘Turing Test’. 

The test was developed from a Victorian parlour game, which consisted of a man and a woman, and an interrogator. The interrogator asks questions in order to work out which is the man and which is the woman. However, they are separated from the man and woman, who answer using typed notes. 

To make it more difficult, the man attempts to fool the interrogator, while the woman tries to help him. In the Turing Test, the man is replaced by a computer. In 2014, a chatbot called Eugene passed a Turing Test for the first time. 

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