On June 23rd Google displayed an interesting and puzzling doodle honouring Alan Turing's birthday 100 years ago. The doodle was an interactive animation of a Turing machine.
Alan Mathison Turing was one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century. A true innovator of artificial intelligence, he formalized concepts such as algorithm and computation by designing the famous Turing machine, which consists of a hypothetical device used to simulate how a computer thinks.
Turing is also known as a code breaker during World War II. He designed, in collaboration with fellow mathematician Gordon Welchman, the Bombe, an electromechanical machine that could help break German Enigma messages.
Despite of his remarkable achievements, Turing suffered unfair treatment due to his open homosexuality. It actually occurred when an ex-lover and his accomplice tried to break into Turing's home. Turing reported the incident to the police leading to questioning and subsequent discovery of his homosexuality.
In 1952, England considered homosexuality as illegal. He was then given two options: Go to jail or chemical castration to supposedly suppress his sexual urges.
He chose the latter, not necessarily because he was afraid to go to jail but because he was concerned that he was not going to be able to continue his work in Manchester University where he had access to one of the only existing computers in the world.
Turing died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning. The police reported suicide as the cause of death, more specifically poisoning from eating an apple drenched in cyanide. The apple had been found next to his bed. However, the infamous apple was never tested for cyanide.
Professor of Philosophy Jack Copeland gave a conference this Saturday 23rd where he questioned the coroner's verdict and came up with a different and more convincing hypothesis on how Turing actually died.
Turing was an avid researcher, and as such, he had been doing experiments in a small room in his house he called the nightmare room. Here, he would electroplate spoons with gold using potassium cyanide.
It was during these experiments that Turing had been careless.
Thus, Prof. Copeland proposes that Turing's cause of death was cyanide poisoning from inhalation of cyanide fumes.
Other researchers argue that the experimental setups during his last days where just a facade to cover his suicidal intentions.
Jack Copeland said that all evidence should be taken seriously and that accidental death proves to be the more plausible cause of Turing's death.
In any case and regardless of how he died, Alan Turing contributions were crucial for the development of computer science, artificial intelligence, and code breaking. These are the reasons he will continue to be honoured and remembered the most.
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