Alan Turing: a short biography - 1

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 1 — The Origins of Alan Turing
Scrapbook page: Early Life

Alan Mathison Turing was born on 23 June 1912, the second and last child (after his brother John) of Julius Mathison and Ethel Sara Turing. The unusual name of Turing placed him in a distinctive family tree of English gentry, far from rich but determinedly upper-middle-class in the peculiar sense of the English class system. His father Julius had entered the Indian Civil Service, serving in the Madras Presidency, and had there met and married Ethel Sara Stoney. She was the daughter of the chief engineer of the Madras railways, who came from an Anglo-Irish family of somewhat similar social status. Although conceived in British India, most likely in the town of Chatrapur, Alan Turing was born in a nursing home in Paddington, London.

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Alan Turing's father

The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

In four inadequate words Alan Turing appears now as the founder of computer science, the originator of the dominant technology of the late twentieth century, but these words were not spoken in his own lifetime, and he may yet be seen in a different light in the future. They are also words very remote from the circumstances of his birth and infancy. The name of Turing was best known for the work of Julius' brother H. D. Turing on fly fishing, and had no connection with the scientific or academic worlds. The name of Stoney however was notable for a
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Alan Turing: a short biography - 1

remote relative, the Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney (18261911), today best known for his identification of the natural units of physical quantities. Possibly the engineering base of his mother's family, with its respect for applied science, had some influence, but if so it was subordinated to the demands of class, church and Empire. Certainly the elder brother John F. Turing, who became a London solicitor, showed no sign of it. Alan Turing's story was not one of family or tradition but of an isolated and autonomous mind. Alan Turing shared with his brother a childhood rigidly determined by the demands of class and the exile in India of his parents. Until his father's retirement from India in 1926, Alan Turing and his elder brother John were fostered in various English homes where nothing encouraged expression, originality, or discovery. Science for him was an extra-curricular passion, first shown in primitive chemistry experiments. But he was given, and read, later commenting on its seminal influence, a popular book called Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know. His boyhood scientific interests were a trial to his mother whose perpetual terror was that he would not be acceptable to the English Public School. At twelve he expressed his conscious fascination with using 'the thing that is commonest in nature and with the least waste of energy,' presentiment of a life seeking freshly minted answers to fundamental questions. Despite this, he was successfully entered for Sherborne School. The headmaster soon reported: "If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a Public School." The assessment of his establishment was almost correct.

Alan Turing with his mother

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 1

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 2

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 2 — Matter and Spirit
Scrapbook page: Inspiration

Turing's private notes on the theory of relativity showed a degreelevel appreciation, yet he was almost prevented from taking the School Certificate lest he shame the school with failure. But it appears that the stimulus for effective communication and competition came only from contact with another very able youth, a year ahead of him at Sherborne, to whom Alan Turing found himself powerfully attracted in 1928. He, Christopher Morcom, gave Turing a vital period of intellectual companionship — which ended with Morcom's sudden death in February 1930. Turing's conviction that he must now do what Morcom could not, apparently sustained him through a long crisis. For three years at least, as we know from his letters to Morcom's mother, his thoughts turned to the question of how the human mind, and Christopher's mind in particular, was embodied in matter; and whether accordingly it could be released from matter by death. This question led him deeper into the area of twentieth century physics, first helped by A. S. Eddington's book The Nature of the Physical World, wondering whether quantum-mechanical theory affected the traditional problem of mind and matter.

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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing, 1931

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 2

As an undergraduate at King's College, Cambridge from 1931, he entered a world more encouraging to free-ranging thought. His 1932 reading of the then new work of von Neumann on the logical foundations of quantum mechanics, helped the transition from emotional to rigorous intellectual enquiry. At the same time, this was when his homosexuality became a definitive part of his identity. The special ambience of King's College gave him a first real home. His association with the so-called anti-War movement of 1933 did not develop into Marxism, nor into the pacifism of his friend and occasional lover James Atkins, then a fellow undergraduate mathematician, later musician. He was closer in thought to the liberalleft economists J. M. Keynes and A. C. Pigou. His relaxations were found not in the literary circles generally associated with the King's College homosexual milieu, but in rowing, running, and later in sailing a small boat. Turing's progress seemed assured, A distinguished degree in 1934 followed by a Fellowship of King's College in 1935 and a Smith's Prize in 1936 for work on probability theory, and he might then have seemed on course for a successful career as a mildly eccentric King's don engaged in pure mathematics. His uniqueness of mind, however, drove him in a direction none could have foreseen. By 1933 Turing had already introduced himself to Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica and so to the then arcane area of mathematical logic. Bertrand Russell had thought of logic as a solid foundation for mathematical truth, but many questions had since been raised about how truth could be captured by any formalism. In particular, in 1931 Gödel had shattered Russell's picture by showing the incompleteness of mathematics: the existence of true statements about numbers which could not be proved by the formal application of set rules of deduction. In 1935, Turing learnt from the lecture course of the Cambridge topologist M. H. A. Newman that a further question, posed by Hilbert, still lay open. It was the question of Decidability, the Entscheidungsproblem. Could there exist, at least in principle, a definite method or process by which it could be decided whether any given mathematical assertion was provable?

Alan Turing in 1934

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 2

To answer such a question needed a definition of 'method' which would be not only precise but compelling. This is what Turing supplied. He analysed what could be achieved by a person performing a methodical process, and seizing on the idea of something done 'mechanically', expressed the analysis in terms of a theoretical machine able to perform certain precisely defined elementary operations on symbols on paper tape. He presented convincing arguments that the scope of such a machine was sufficient to encompass everything that would count as a 'definite method.' Daringly he included an argument based on the transitions between 'states of mind' of a human being performing a mental process.

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 3

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 3 — The Turing Machine
Scrapbook page: Turing machines

This triple correspondence between logical instructions, the action of the mind, and a machine which could in principle be embodied in a practical physical form, was Turing's definitive contribution. Having made this novel definition of what should count as a 'definite method' — in modern language, an algorithm — it was not too hard to answer Hilbert's question in the negative: no such decision procedure exists. In April 1936 he showed his result to Newman; but at the same moment the parallel conclusion of the American logician Alonzo Church became known, and Turing was robbed of the full reward for his originality. His paper, On Computable Numbers with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem, had to refer to Church's work, and was delayed until August 1936. However it was seen at the time that Turing's approach was original and different; Church relied upon an assumption internal to mathematics, rather than appealing to operations that could actually be done by real things or people in the physical world. Subsequently, the concept of the Turing machine has become the foundation of the modern theory of computation and computability. Turing worked in isolation from the powerful school of logical theory centred on Church at Princeton University, and his work emerged as that of a complete outsider. One can only speculate, but it looks as if Turing found in the concept of the Turing machine something that would satisfy the fascination with the problem of Mind that Christopher Morcom had sparked; his total originality lay in seeing the relevance of mathematical logic to a problem originally seen as one of physics. In this paper, as in so many aspects of his life,
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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing: a short biography - 3

Turing made a bridge between the logical and the physical worlds, thought and action, which crossed conventional boundaries. His work introduced a concept of immense practical significance: the idea of the Universal Turing Machine. The concept of 'the Turing machine' is like that of 'the formula' or 'the equation'; there is an infinity of possible Turing machines, each corresponding to a different 'definite method' or algorithm. But imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. Then the work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing machine, namely the Universal Turing machine. A Universal Turing machine can be made do what any other particular Turing machine would do, by supplying it with the standard form describing that Turing machine. One machine, for all possible tasks. It is hard now not to think of a Turing machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting and obeying the program as what the computer itself does. Thus, the Universal Turing Machine embodies the essential principle of the computer: a single machine which can be turned to any well-defined task by being supplied with the appropriate program. Additionally, the abstract Universal Turing Machine naturally exploits what was later seen as the 'stored program' concept essential to the modern computer: it embodies the crucial twentieth-century insight that symbols representing instructions are no different in kind from symbols representing numbers. But computers, in this modern sense, did not exist in 1936. Turing created these concepts out of his mathematical imagination. Only nine years later would electronic technology be tried and tested sufficiently to make it practical to transfer the logic of his ideas into actual engineering. In the meanwhile the idea lived only in his mind. In common with other outstanding young scientists, Turing spent two years at Princeton University enrolled as a graduate student. He arrived in September 1936. On Computable Numbers... was published at the very end of 1936 and attracted some attention; by the time he left, the idea had come to the attention of the leading Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann. But Turing certainly did not shoot to fame. He worked on on algebra and number theory; on showing that his definition of computability coincided with that of Church; and on an extension of his ideas (Ordinal Logics) which provided a Ph.D. thesis. The work on 'ordinal logics', probably his most difficult and deepest
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Alan Turing: a short biography - 3

mathematical work, was an attempt to bring some kind of order to the realm of the uncomputable. This also was connected to the question of the nature of mind, as Turing's interpretation of his ideas suggested that human 'intuition' could correspond to uncomputable steps in an argument. But Turing never pursued this line of development after 1938. Instead, he was increasingly preoccupied with more immediate problems which demanded logical skills. True to the concreteness of the Turing machine, he also spent time at Princeton making a cipher machine based on using electromagnetic relays to multiply binary numbers. Even then he saw a link from 'useless' logic to practical computation. Although not one of the political intellectuals of the 1930s, Turing followed current events and was influenced in studying ciphers by the prospect of war with Germany.

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 4

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 4 — The Second World War
Scrapbook page: The Enigma War

In 1938 Turing was offered a temporary post at Princeton by von Neumann but instead returned to Cambridge. He had no University lectureship; in the year 1938-9 he lived on his King's College fellowship, as logician and number theorist. Unusually for a mathematician, he joined in Wittgenstein's classes on the philosophy of mathematics; unusually again, he engineered gear-wheel parts for a special machine to calculate the Riemann Zeta-function. Publicly, he sponsored the entry into Britain of a young German Jewish refugee. Secretly, he worked part-time for the British cryptanalytic department, the socalled Government Code and Cypher School. His appointment marked the first scientific input into a hitherto arts-based department. That revolution was caused by the failure of prescientific methods to penetrate the mechanical Enigma cipher used by Germany. No significant progress was made, however, until the gift of vital ideas and information in July 1939 from Poland, where mathematicians had been employed on the

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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

The Enigma cipher machine

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 4

problem much earlier.
Upon British declaration of war on 3 September, Turing took up full-time work at the wartime cryptanalytic headquarters, Bletchley Park. The Polish work was limited as it depended upon the very particular way the Germans had been using the Enigma. One of their ideas was embodied in a machine called a Bomba. The way forward lay in Turing's generalisation of the Polish Bombe into a far more powerful device, capable of breaking any Enigma message where a small portion of plaintext could be guessed correctly. Another Cambridge mathematican, W. G. Welchman, made an important contribution, but the critical factor was Turing's brilliant mechanisation of subtle logical deductions. From late 1940 onwards, the Turing-Welchman Bombe made reading of Luftwaffe signals routine. In contrast, the more complex Enigma methods used in German Naval communications were generally regarded as unbreakable. Happy to work alone on a problem that defeated others, Turing cracked the system at the end of 1939, but it required the capture of further material by the Navy, and the development of sophisticated statistical processes, before regular decryption could begin in mid-1941. Turing's section 'Hut 8', which deciphered Naval and in particular U-boat messages, then became a key unit at Bletchley Park. By the end of 1941, as the United States entered the war, the battle of the Atlantic was moving towards Allied advantage. On 1 February 1942, the Atlantic U-boat Enigma machine was given an extra complication and this advantage was suddenly wiped out: nothing could be decoded and catastrophe loomed. Besides illustrating the always razor-edge state of the war of wits, this crisis brought about a new ingredient in Alan Turing's experience: electronic technology made its first appearance at Bletchley Park as telephone engineers were pressed into an effort to gain ever higher speeds of mechanical working. As it turned out, however, the electronic engineers found themselves called upon to mechanize the breaking of the 'Fish' material: messages enciphered on the quite different system used for Hitler's strategic communications. Here again Turing's statistical ideas underlay the methods employed, though it was M. H. A. Newman who played the organising role. The conjunction of Turing's thoughts with the practicality of large-scale electronic machinery, arising from this technical U-boat Enigma change, came to have momentous consequences.

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 4

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 5

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 5 — Emergence of the Computer
Scrapbook page: The Electronic War

By 1942 Alan Turing was the genius loci at Bletchley Park, famous as 'Prof', shabby, nail-bitten, tie-less, sometimes halting in speech and awkward of manner, the source of many hilarious anecdotes about bicycles, gas masks, and the Home Guard; the foe of charlatans and status-seekers, relentless in long shift work with his colleagues, mostly of student age. To one of these, Joan Clarke, he proposed marriage, and was gladly accepted. But then he retracted, telling her of his homosexuality. Turing crossed the Atlantic in November 1942, for highest-level liaison not only on the desperate U-boat Enigma crisis, but on the electronic encipherment of speech signals between Roosevelt and Churchill. Before his return in March 1943, logical weaknesses in the changed U-boat system had been brilliantly detected, and U-boat Enigma decryption was effectively restored for the rest of the war. With the battle of the Atlantic regained for the Allies, crisis resolved, chess champion C. H. O'D. Alexander, hitherto Turing's deputy, took charge of Hut 8. Turing became an all-purpose consultant to the by now vast Bletchley Park operation. As such he saw the 'Fish' material cracked by the Colossus machines, brought into operation just before D-Day, demonstrating the feasibility of large-scale digital electronic technology. Turing himself devoted much time to learning electronics: ostensibly for creating his own, elegant speech secrecy system, which he effected with the aid of one assistant, Donald Bayley, at nearby Hanslope Park. But he had another and more ambitious end in view: in the last stage of the war (for his part in
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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing: a short biography - 5

which he was awarded an OBE) he planned the embodiment of the Universal Turing Machine in electronic form, or in effect, invented the digital computer. In 1944, at the invasion of Normandy that Allied control of the Atlantic allowed, Alan Turing was almost uniquely in possession of three key ideas:
q q q

his own 1936 concept of the universal machine the potential speed and reliability of electronic technology the inefficiency in designing different machines for different logical processes.

Combined, these ideas provided the principle, the practical means, and the motivation for the modern computer, a single machine capable of handling any programmed task. He himself was as eager as anyone in the world to bring them together, and was spurred even more by a fourth idea: that the universal machine should be able to acquire and exhibit the faculties of the human mind. Even in 1944 he spoke to Donald Bayley of 'building a brain'. Turing was captivated by the potential of the computer he had conceived. Although his 1936 work had shown the absolute limitations of the computable, he had become fascinated by what Turing machines could do, rather than by what they could not. He had long abandoned his youthful expectations of finding free will or free spirits through quantum mechanics. His later thought was strongly determinist and atheistic in character. And by the end of the Second World War he had turned against the tentative idea that there were steps of 'intuition' in human thought corresponding to uncomputable operations. Instead, he held that the computer would offer unlimited scope for practical progress towards embodying intelligence in an artificial form. For the second time, he experienced being pre-empted by a parallel American publication, in this case the EDVAC plan for an electronic computer, with Von Neumann's name attached. Nonetheless, this publication when it appeared in June 1945 worked in practice to Turing's advantage, American competition stimulating the National Physical Laboratory to plan a rival project, to which he was appointed a Senior Principal Scientific Officer. Turing despised his nominal superior J. Womersley, but at least initially this applied mathematician showed a rapid appreciation of the scope of Turing's ideas, and with a eye for acronyms steered Turing's design towards formal approval in early 1946 as the Automatic Computing Engine, or ACE.

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 5

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 6

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 6 — Building a Brain
Scrapbook page: Inventing the Computer

Turing's detailed computer scheme was drawn up in a continuation of wartime spirit: as a plan that could be effected immediately with the memory storage (cumbersome acoustic delay lines, as used in radar) that was to hand. Turing knew that superior technology would soon transform design: his emphasis was on speed in every sense, and in the exploitation of the universal machine concept. This meant, in particular, implementing arithmetical functions by programming rather than by building in electronic components, a concept different from that of the American-derived designs. The hardware design was short-term; but his prospectus for the use of the machine was visionary. Turing projected a computer able to switch at will from numerical work to algebra, codebreaking, file handling, or chess-playing. Methods for handling subroutines included a suggestion that the machine could expand its own programs from an abbreviated form, ideas well ahead of contemporary American plans. A later talk (February 1947) depicted a national computer centre with remote terminals, and the prospect of the machine taking over more and more of its own programming work. In 1947 his Abbreviated Code Instructions marked the beginning of programming languages. But not a single component of the ACE was assembled, and Turing found himself without any influence in the engineering of the project. The lack of cooperation, very different from the wartime spirit, he found deeply frustrating. From October 1947, the NPL allowed, or perhaps preferred, that he should spend the academic year at Cambridge. Rather than publish these fundamental principles of computing, he spent his time on new
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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing: a short biography - 6

study amidst the post-war renaissance of science, not in mathematics or technology but in neurology and physiology. Out of this came a pioneering paper on what would now be called neural nets, written to amplify his earlier suggestions that a sufficiently complex mechanical system could exhibit learning ability. This was submitted to the NPL as an internal report, and never published in his lifetime. Meanwhile the NPL made no advance with the construction of the ACE, and as Turing's position fell back, other computer projects at Cambridge and Manchester took the lead. Indeed it was Newman, who had been the first reader of On computable numbers, and in charge of the electronic breaking of the 'Fish' ciphers, who was partly responsible for this. On his 1945 appointment to the chair of pure mathematics at Manchester University, he had negotiated a large Royal Society grant for the construction of a computer. Newman strongly promoted Turing's principle of the stored-program computer, but unlike Turing, intended no personal involvement with engineering. He conveyed the basic principles to the leading radar engineer F. C. Williams, who had been attracted to Manchester, and the latter's brilliant innovation made possible a rapid success: Manchester in June 1948 had the world's first practical demonstration of Turing's computer principle. Although losing in the race to implement a universal machine, and slow to communicate or compete in the game of scientific priority, Turing ran very competitively in a literal sense. After the war he developed his strength in cross-country running with frequent longdistance training and top-rank competition in amateur athletics. He would amaze his colleagues by running to scientific meetings, beating the travellers by public transport, and only an injury prevented his serious consideration for the British team in the 1948 Olympic Games. The return to Cambridge helped Alan Turing form an agreeable circle of lasting friendships, particularly with Robin Gandy, who began at this period to develop under Turing's influence and would later inherit his mantle as a mathematical logician. Although never secretive about his sexuality, he now became more deliberately outspoken and exuberant, and all thoughts of comfort or conformity were now left behind. A mathematics student at King's College, Neville Johnson, became a lover.

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 6

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 7

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 7 — Turing at Manchester
Scrapbook page: Machines and Men

In May 1948, Newman offered Turing the post as Deputy Director of the computing laboratory at Manchester University. Turing accepted, resigned from the NPL, and moved in October 1948. The meaningless title reflected Turing's uncertain status. He had no control over the project whose fate was in fact determined by its sudden necessity for the British atomic bomb project. F. C. Williams had in any case built his own empire, and Newman's original plans were largely swept aside. But Turing did have a clear role to play: as the organiser of programming for the engineers' electronics. Turing at Manchester could perhaps have led the world in software development. His partly explored ideas included the use of mathematical logic for program checking, implementing Church's logical calculus on the machine, and other ideas which, combined with his massive knowledge of combinatorial and statistical methods, could have set the agenda in computer science for years ahead. This, however, he failed to do; his work on machine-code programming at Manchester, produced only as a working manual, was limited in scope. Instead, there followed a confused period, in which Turing hovered between new topics and old. He revisited his 1939 calculation of the Riemann zeta-function with the use of the prototype computer; he pursued the question of computability within the algebra of group theory. Out of this confused era arose, however, the most lucid and far-reaching expression of Turing's philosophy of machine and Mind, the paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence which appeared in the philosophical journal Mind in 1950.
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The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing: a short biography - 7

This, besides summarising the view he had developed since 1936, absorbed his first-hand experience and experiment with machinery. The wit and drama of the Turing Test has proved a lasting stimulus to later thinkers, and the paper a classic contribution to the philosophy and practice of Artificial Intelligence research. But this was essentially the end of his investigation, and despite this model of communication, supported by his radio talks, he had apparently no influence on the American foundation of Artificial Intelligence later in the 1950s. At the same time, in 1950, there emerged a clear direction for new thought. Rather than return to classical mathematics, the novel potential of the computer still held his attention, and he became a pioneer of its personal use. For, as he settled in Manchester, buying his own first house at outlying Wilmslow, he had an entirely fresh field in view. It was what he described as the mathematical theory of morphogenesis: the theory of growth and form in biology. Outwardly an extraordinary change of direction, for him it was a return to a fundamental problem; even in childhood he had been spotted and sketched 'watching the daisies grow'; from childhood Natural Wonders to D'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form to a more recent interest in how brains grow new connections, he had sustained an interest in the biological structures so easily taken for granted, yet so complex and bizarre from the viewpoint of physics. Out of all the phenomena of life he fixed on the way asymmetry can arise out of initially symmetric conditions as first thing requiring explanation, and his answer, given without apparent reference to anyone else's work, was that it could arise from the nonlinearity of the chemical equations of reaction and diffusion. He modelled hypothetical chemical reactions on the circle and the plane, and for the repetitive numerical simulation required to test his ideas, became the first serious user of an electronic computer for mathematical research. He was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society in July 1951, for the work done fifteen years before, but equal originality was on the way: his first successful work on The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis was submitted as a paper that November. Long overlooked, it was a founding paper of modern non-linear dynamical theory.

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 7

Continue the short biography For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 8

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Part 8 — Alan Turing's Crisis
Scrapbook page: Wondrous Light

Alan Turing was arrested and came to trial on 31 March 1952, after the police learned of his sexual relationship with a young Manchester man. He made no serious denial or defence, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of Manchester engineering. Rather than go to prison he accepted, for the period of a year, injections of oestrogen intended to neutralise his libido. His work on the morphogenetic theory continued. He developed his theory of pattern formation out of instability into the realm of spherical objects, such as the Radiolaria, and also on the cylinder, as a model of plant stems. He set as a particular goal the explanation for the appearance of the Fibonacci numbers in the leaf patterns of plants — most noticeable in the close-packed spirals of sunflower heads and fir cones.

My Book

The background for this Page has been taken from The Wallpaper Machine, by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears. It has been generated by a nonlinear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.

Alan Turing (right) at the console of the Manchester computer

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Alan Turing: a short biography - 8

Besides this he refreshed his youthful interest in quantum physics, studying the problem of wave-function reduction in quantum mechanics, with a hint that he was considering a non-linear mechanism for it. He took a new interest in the representation of elementary particles by spinors, and in relativity theory. A factor in his life unknown to most around him was that he had also continued to work for GCHQ, the post-war successor to Bletchley Park, on the basis of a personal connection with Alexander, now its director. But since 1948, the conditions of the Cold War, and the alliance with the United States, meant that known homosexuals had become ineligible for security clearance. Turing, now therefore excluded, spoke bitterly of this to his onetime wartime colleague, now MI6 engineer Donald Bayley, but to no other personal friends. State security also seems the likely cause of what he described as another intense crisis in March 1953, involving police searching for a visiting Norwegian who had come to see him. Concern over the foreign contacts of one acquainted with state secrets was understandable, and his holiday in Greece in 1953 could not have been calculated to calm the nerves of security officers. Although unable to tell his friends about questions of official secrecy, in other ways he actively sought much greater intimacy of expression with them and with a Jungian therapist. Eccentric, solitary, gloomy, vivacious, resigned, angry, eager, dissatisfied — these had always been his ever-varying characteristics, and despite the strength that he showed the world in coping with outrageous fortune, no-one could safely have predicted his future course. He was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed. His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner's verdict was suicide.

Continue to the Oration For links and more pictures go to the corresponding Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.
© Andrew Hodges 1995

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Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Unveiling the official Blue Plaque on Alan Turing's Birthplace
On 23 June 1998, I had the honour of being asked by English Heritage to unveil the official Blue Plaque on Alan Turing's birthplace. It would have been his 86th birthday. The day was particularly appropriate. There was a great deal of publicity for the 50th anniversary of the world's first working modern computer, which ran at Manchester on 21 June 1948. And at 10.30pm the night before, 22 June 1998, the House of Commons had voted by a large majority to change the law so that homosexual and heterosexual acts would alike be governed by an 'age of consent' of 16. It was recognised by all sides that the issue at stake was that of equality. (Note added later: the law was indeed finally changed on 30 November 2000, despite intense opposition from christian leaders in the unelected House of Lords.) I also alluded to another coincidence: that Sigmund Freud, as a refugee in 1938, stayed in the same building. A coincidence I missed was that the day also marked the exact 50th anniversary of the foundation on 23 June 1948 of the pioneering Scandinavian gay movement which influenced Alan Turing in 1952 and gave him a liberating sense of the future. There is more about Alan Turing's birthplace and on memorials to him on pages of my Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. Alan Turing Home Page

Scrapbook Index

My Book

My Oration:
Dear friends of Alan Turing: I have messages from two distinguished people who are unable to be present today. The first is from Sir Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, who writes: This century has witnessed several revolutions in scientific thought and in technology. Relativity, quantum mechanics, antibiotics, genetics, aeroplanes, and television are some obvious examples. As the century draws to its close, however, it is another revolution that is now beginning to make the most profound mark on almost every aspect of our lives. This is the general-purpose computer. The central seminal figure in this computer revolution was Alan Turing, whose outstanding originality and vision was what made it possible, in work originating in the mid 1930s. Although it is now hard to see what the limits of the computer revolution might eventually be, it was Turing himself who pointed out to us the very existence of such theoretical limitations. These issues raise pivotal philosophical questions, which will, I am sure, be argued about for centuries to come. Turing was, indeed, a deep and

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influential philosopher in addition to his having made contributions to mathematics, technology and code-breaking that profoundly contribute to our present-day well being. The second is from the Rt. Hon. Chris Smith, MP, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who writes: It is long overdue and very welcome indeed that the birthplace of Alan Turing should now receive official recognition. Alan Turing did more for his country and for the future of science than almost anyone. He was dishonourably persecuted during his life; today let us wipe that national shame clean by honouring him properly. In 1952, while Nazi war criminals went free, Alan Turing faced punishment: a choice between prison and chemical castration. The shame is that this country enforced a sexual Apartheid law which penalised honesty. Betrayed by his country, Alan Turing embodied scornful resistance to that Apartheid; he acted and suffered accordingly. Comment on his alleged naivete misses the only point that matters: that such a law should never have existed; least of all after a war fought in the name of freedom. But 1952 saw the first public opposition, and thereafter increased persecution induced a new consciousness. In the long term, the naive unrealistic intransigence of Alan Turing's attitude has eclipsed more worldly wisdom. After decades of non-violent struggle, last night the House of Commons voted to eradicate that law. Alan Turing spoke the then unspeakable and showed no shame, although the hurt lay deep; and for that reason his suicide two years later fitted no stereotype of the defeated. He was a marathon runner, not given to giving up. But time has partly revealed his secret song of innocence and experience, and given significance to the veiled image of the poisoned apple. Being a free-thinking free-living and open homosexual could not, at the height of Cold War panic, be consistent with his chosen duty, of knowing innermost secrets of the security state. True, he ridiculed his surveillance by policemen he called 'the poor sweeties,' but it does not amaze me that eventually he found existence selfcontradictory and life unliveable, on that tenth anniversary of the invasion made possible by his work. Even the most independent mind can be robbed of will and purpose and meaning by friendly fire. But until that bitter end, he insisted on adventure both in personal and in scientific exploration: developing his futuristic non-linear biological theory as the world's first personal computer user at Manchester University. I wish I could unveil where his prolific last years would have led: to chaos theory, perhaps; to a nonlinear quantum mechanics, or cosmology. Instead, they were lost in a death that brought more stigma on himself and inflicted a wound on all around him. There were wounds throughout Alan Turing's life; and many veils which can only be partially lifted. Beneath the irreverent wit of his famous paper of 1950 on the future of artificial intelligence, there is a serious anxiety over the relationship of thought and action, the individual and society. This reflects his own experience of life, and in particular his exclusion from the Manchester engineering culture, which respected only the outward and visible, valued the hard machine and not the soft. On Midsummer Day 1948, the world's first prototype general-purpose computer, the first Universal Turing Machine, was working at Manchester. The engineers had been supplied with the basic principle by the initiator of the project: Max Newman, Turing's close colleague both at Cambridge and at Bletchley Park. But this vital transmission of logical ideas goes unmentioned in the current celebrations of the brilliant engineering; and after fifty years Turing is still the Trotsky of the computer revolution. Turing had to bear another wound, in that he had been obliged to abandon his own visionary plan for the National Physical Laboratory, started so much earlier at the outbreak of peace in 1945.
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But Turing never competed for the world's priority; it was not in his modest mathematical culture. Mathematicians had to be particularly quiet if they had worked behind the veil of Bletchley Park. Silenced by secrecy, Turing could never speak of having led British intelligence from defeatism to industrial-scale supremacy. In 1939, in Turing's words, no-one else was doing anything about the naval Enigma signals and so he could have the problem to himself. Alone, in naive unrealism, he broke the unbreakable; then, intransigent, saw it through into Allied mastery of the Atlantic by 1944. But he could not draw on this investment to execute his peacetime plan, the computer of the future. At Bletchley Park, Alan Turing was captivated by his long-term dream of the computer. But Roger Penrose's message has hinted at a deeper level — his work beyond the limits of the computer. Max Newman's judgment also was that war took Turing away from his profoundest explorations, thinking the uncomputable. The decision that Turing took in 1938 lies behind another veil. I doubt whether Sigmund Freud, by coincidence exiled here in Turing's birthplace in that year of refugees, could have analysed how Turing chose to bite Snow White's apple, and forgo the paradise of pure mathematics. That decision is too deeply embedded in the complex bonds between the unique individuality of genius, and our common planetary home. In the perspective of centuries, to which Roger Penrose has alluded, Turing's decision may seem a sacrifice of the truly longterm: losing the marathon of mathematics, for a sprint to save a self-destructive world. Even that great original work, the computable numbers of 1936, from which the computer was to flower ten years later, had its wounding aspects: King's College, Cambridge, that oasis of sexual tolerance, had become his home; but that University gave him scant recognition. And that work also emerged from behind a veil covering the deepest pain, where love and sexuality and free-ranging intellect were inseparable: the death of Christopher Morcom in 1930. The nature of spirit, as Alan Turing described it to Mrs Morcom, always remained a natural wonder barely compatible with the orthodox academic and scientific world. School and family held special buried trauma too; but lastly — or firstly — my backwards arrow of time points to our common natural mystery of birth: the mystery of how matter comes to support human mind, which was the burning theme of his lifelong enquiry. On that subject the veil of nature as yet remains in place, but his work has given a foundation for a new century of natural philosophy. No more war, please. It is the greatest honour to unveil the place where Ethel Sara gave birth on 23 June 1912. My sentiments are not the same as those that impelled her to rediscover her dead son and tell her story. But I hope she would recognise an echo of her language when I conclude: The law killed but the spirit gives life. Andrew Hodges, 23 June 1998.

Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oration

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Alan Turing: a short biography

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Alan Turing: a short biography

Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges
This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma. There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, you should go to the corresponding pages of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook.
Scrapbook Index 1. Alan Turing's family origins and childhood 2. The inspiration in his early life leading to the Turing Machine 3. The Turing Machine, foundation of modern computer science My Book 4. His critical codebreaking work in the Second World War 5. The emergence of the electronic computer 6. Building a brain at the National Physical Laboratory 7. The first working computer, the Turing Test, and biological growth 8. Alan Turing's arrest, trial, punishment, Cold War situation, new ideas and sudden death.

Alan Turing Home Page

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This is followed by the Oration at Alan Turing's Birthplace that I delivered on 23 June 1998. © Andrew Hodges

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