Alan Turing: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

You may know Alan Turing as a codebreaker, but in reality, he was so much more. In this lesson, we'll examine the personal, and tragic, life of the man whose genius helped defeat the Nazis in World War II.

Who Was Alan Turing?

When you hear the name Alan Turing, you invariably find the word ''enigma'' not too far off. Turing's ability to crack the code on the Germans' Enigma machine was clearly a turning point in the outcome of World War II. Yet, the term enigma could be representative of Turing himself - a puzzle to be figured out.

There was much more to Turing than his being known as a brilliant mathematician and pioneer of computer science, so let's take a look at the personal side of the

Alan Turing age 16
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Touring Turing's Life

Turing was born Alan Mathison Turing on June 23, 1912, in London, England. He was the son of Julius Turing, a British member of the Indian Civil Service, and Ethel Stoney, who met and married Julius in India.

Turing was a pupil at Hazlehurst Preparatory School, taking part in chess and debate. He was described as a mostly average student who had his head perpetually in the clouds of his own thoughts and ideas. Teachers remarked that his writing was poor and his grades in math and science were poor. At one time, Turing said, ''No, I'm not interested in developing a powerful brain.'' That's a pretty comical statement for someone of Turing's intelligence.

He was later enrolled at Sherborne School, cycling 60 miles from his home. Perhaps it was the extreme physical activity that helped transform him into a nearly Olympic-level runner. In 1948, he earned a marathon time of 2 hours, 46 minutes and three seconds, just 11 minutes shy of the Olympic winning time that year. Of his running pursuits, Turing was quoted as saying: ''I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard.''

Turing won a load of mathematics awards while at Sherborne and read Einstein's work and papers on quantum mechanics, which weren't always school assignments and drove his teachers crazy. He later went to King's College, Cambridge, to study math more in-depth. It was around the same time that Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. Turing was staunchly anti-war, though he did not lean toward pacifism or Marxism like many of his contemporaries at the time.

As a graduate student at Princeton University, Turing made his first advances toward the modern computer system we know today. His idea of a ''computer'' was pretty broad, however: ''A man provided with paper, pencil, and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.''

A few years after returning to Europe, he was tapped to begin working to break the Nazi Enigma codes. He had been performing a fellowship at King's College and joined the Government Code and Cypher School. Much of his job as a codebreaker was conducted at a place called Bletchley Park, the school's headquarters during the war. Of codes, Turing once famously said, ''Codes are a puzzle. A game, just like any other game.''

When the war ended, Turing returned his attention to designing and building a computer for the National Physical Laboratory, wrote programming code and returned to academia at Cambridge. He continued working in these fields, earning recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1951.

The Tide Turns

Just one year later, Turing was arrested on charges of gross indecency for his homosexual lifestyle. At the time, homosexuality was considered a crime in Britain. He was actually tried in a court of law and found guilty. His punishment was to either go to jail or subject himself to chemical castration. He chose the hormone injections.

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