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Alan Turing: Father of theoretical computer science, artificial intelligence and LGBTIQ+ trailblazer.

To kick off Pride month, AWL would like to recognize Alan Turing, the English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist. Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. He is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre that produced Ultra intelligence. For a time he led Hut 8, the section that was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Here, he devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Turing played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Axis powers in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic.

After the war, Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), one of the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948, Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Machine Laboratory, at the Victoria University of Manchester, where he helped develop the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s. Despite these accomplishments, Turing was never fully recognized in Britain during his lifetime because much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts. He accepted hormone treatment with DES, a procedure commonly referred to as chemical castration, as an alternative to prison. Turing died on June 7, 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death as a suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is also consistent with accidental poisoning.

Following a public campaign in 2009, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way [Turing] was treated”. Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon in 2013. The term “Alan Turing law” is now used informally to refer to a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

Turing has an extensive legacy with statues of him and many things named after him, including an annual award for computer science innovations. He appears on the current Bank of England £50 note, which was released on June 23, 2021, to coincide with his birthday. A 2019 BBC series, as voted by the audience, named him the greatest person of the 20th century.

We at AWL celebrate Turing everyday as we have a conference room named in his honor.