Alan Turing was a British mathematician, a computer scientist, and a tortured soul who spent his last days plagued by homophobia. Widely regarded as the inventor of computer science, his devices–such as the Turing machine, the new Google Doodle that was rolled out today–were largely under-appreciated in his time. Today, June 23rd, he would have been 100 years old. He died on June 7th, 1954 under mysterious circumstances which were ruled as a suicide back then, but are getting re-investigated now as a possible accidental death.
Turing displayed a brilliant grasp on math and science at a very young age without even having to study, mostly because schools in those days were more interested in classical studies than mathematical. As a teenager he grasped Albert Einstein’s theories and even countered them with some of his own. His headmaster reportedly wrote to his parents out of concern for Turing’s continued education, saying, “I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school.”
This lack of confidence didn’t slow him down, however, and he later became a codebreaker during WWII, creating a number of ways to break German codes. After the war, he worked for the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer. It was around this time that he began work on the Turing Machine, which is the focus of today’s Google Doodle and is the basis of modern computers. In short, it was capable of computing anything that was computable, using complicated algorithms.
Turing eventually faced criminal charges for his lifestyle, because homosexuality was illegal in the U.K. back then. He submitted to chemical castration over imprisonment by taking estrogen, but even that didn’t dampen his spirit, according to friends and family. They all say he was well during his last days; however, he was found dead by his housekeeper of cyanide poisoning, with a half-eaten apple by his bed. His death was ruled a suicide, but investigators believe now that it’s very possible he accidentally poisoned himself during one of his experiments, which often included dangerous chemicals. In fact, his workroom had a powerful odor of cyanide after he was found. Some believe it’s possible that he laid his apple down in a puddle of the deadly liquid unknowingly before eating it, as he was notorious for being careless while working.
Turing’s brilliant mind and accomplishments are still remembered today by those who came after him; his legacy can be found in the codes on the Google homepage as well as in offices of modern science around the world.
The Doodle is interactive; if you are a technical and math-minded person, check it out.