1. Alan Turing was a brilliant athlete
When he wasn’t busy breaking codes and inventing computers, Turing was a brilliant long-distance runner. He frequently ran the entire 40 miles from Bletchley Park where he worked, to high level meetings in London. Turing tried out for the British team for the 1948 Olympic games, but narrowly missed out on qualifying due to an injury.
2. Turing’s nickname at Bletchley Park was ‘Prof’
Turing was known for being quite the eccentric around Bletchley park, nicknamed ‘Prof’ by his colleagues. He used to get bad hayfever in the summer, so took to using a gas mask when cycling to work. He would also allegedly chain his mug to the radiator to make sure nobody stole it when he wasn’t around.
3. Turing is, indirectly, the creator of the CAPTCHA test
He believed machines would be able to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent at, or at least indistinguishable from, a human. It was in his paper on the subject that he coined the term, the ‘imitation game’, going on to devise the ‘Turing Test’.
The CAPTCHA test, which is seen on websites across the internet, is a modification of the Turing Test. Here, the roles have been reversed: the CAPTCHA test is based on the assumption that there is no software sophisticated enough to decipher the distorted image, and therefore anyone that can must be human. You often see CAPTCHA tests on ticketing websites to stop people using robots to buy up sought after tickets so they can be sold on illegally at an inflated price.
4. There is an ‘Alan Turing law’ in the UK
Turing’s story is ultimately a tragic one. Following a burglary at his home in 1952, Turing acknowledged his homosexuality in an interview with the police. He was charged with gross indecency since homosexuality was a crime in the UK at the time.
As a result of his conviction, Turing lost his security clearance at GCHQ and could not continue his work there. He took his own life not two years later and it is speculated that this charge played a large part in his suicide.
In 2009 a petition was started urging the British government to apologise for Turing’s prosecution. This resulted in the Queen signing a pardon in 2013. The ‘Alan Turing law’ is now the informal name of the new law in the UK, introduced into the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which exonerates men convicted of similar historical crimes.
5. Alan Turing was a rule-breaker
There are countless examples of times in Turing’s life where he defied popular wisdom and stuck to his guns. Turing never listened to naysayers when it came to his work in science and computing, resulting in some of the most important breakthroughs in history.
One particularly notable example of his strong will was when, in 1941 his work at Bletchley Park was frustrated by a lack of resources and manpower. Breaking protocol, he wrote directly to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Churchill acted immediately, demanding action and ensuring Turing had everything he needed to continue his good work.
Further reading on Alan Turing
The Enigma (1983) by Andrew Hodges
The definitive biography of Turing and his work, and basis for the Oscar-nominated film, The Imitation Game.
Alan Turing’s Electronic Brain (2005) by Jack Copeland
First hand accounts from Turing and other computing pioneers, covering the invention of the first computer and beyond.
Alan Turing: His Work and Impact (2013) by S. Barry Cooper & J. Van Leeuwen
A fascinating compilation of Alan Turing's papers with extensive expert commentaries
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Feature Image Copyright IMG_3129 CC Andy L
Embedded Image Copyright Alan Turing @ Bletchly Park CC kleer001