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Overlooked No More: Alan Turing, Condemned Code Breaker and Computer Visionary


In an article published in 1950 in the academic journal “Mind,” he developed a method that came to be known as the “Turing Test,” a sort of thought experiment to determine whether a computer could pass as a human. As part of his experiment, a human interrogator would ask questions and try to figure out whether the answers came from a computer or from a fellow human.

Many years later, President Barack Obama placed Turing in a trans-Atlantic pantheon of innovation and discovery. “From Newton and Darwin to Edison and Einstein; from Alan Turing to Steve Jobs, we have led the world in our commitment to science and cutting-edge research,” Obama said during a visit to London in 2011.

Alan Mathison Turing was born in London on June 23, 1912, the second of two sons. His parents, Ethel Sara Stoney and Julius Mathison Turing, had met in imperial India, where his father was a senior colonial administrator. After Alan’s birth they left him and his brother, John, in the care of foster parents in England while they returned to India so Alan’s father could continue his work.

“Alan Turing’s story was not one of family or tradition but of an isolated and autonomous mind,” Hodges wrote.

In his early days, his education reflected the overwhelming social requisite of his class to secure a place at a reputable, private boarding school and, at age 13, he enrolled at Sherborne School in southern England, where his fascination with science raised alarms in an educational system based on the study of what were called the classics — works in Latin and ancient Greek.

“If he is to be solely a scientific specialist, he is wasting his time at a public school,” Nowell Smith, Sherborne’s headmaster, wrote to his parents, as recorded in Hodges’s book.



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