A Beautiful Mind

We’re just back from a trip to the cinema to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” – deeply affecting and highly recommended!
Turing was a brilliant but eccentric, and troubled, mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, philosopher and pioneer computer scientist, now widely regarded by those in the know as one of the more important and influential figures of the twentieth century.  To the general public, he is perhaps best  known not so much for his work on artificial intelligence and information technology as for that on military intelligence and code-breaking   during the Second World War, at  Bletchley Park.  He and his  equally oddball fellow academics at Bletchley Park (“Station X”) enjoyed the unlikely but more-or-less unqualified support of Churchill,  who clearly understood more than most the vital significance of the intelligence they generated  (“Ultra”).  (At the same time, though, remarking, rather archly, that although he knew he had asked for no stone to be left unturned in putting together the team, he had not expected to be taken quite so literally).  It has been estimated that the work of the team at “Station X” may have cut short the war by up to two to three years, and saved countless thousands of lives.  Perhaps the team’s most notable successes were the breaking  of the German Navy’s “Enigma” code, using  a prototype computer called a “Bombe”, which was a decisive factor in the victory in the Battle of the Atlantic; and the breaking of the German Army High Command’s “Lorenz” code, using the first fully programmable computer “Colossus” (actually designed by the essentially entirely  unsung Bill  Tutte and Tommy Flowers).
Statue of Turing at Bletchley Park
Sadly, after the war, Turing was persecuted over his homosexuality to such an extent that he eventually took his own life, eating a poisoned apple, in 1954.  This is  ironic in that Turing’s  research  on “artificial intelligence” almost certainly came  about, by way of his musings on “the nature of spirit”, as a  result of his  reaction to the tragic  death of the fellow schoolboy he  loved.
Note.  On a related note, readers may be interested to know that there are memorial plaques to Turing in Maida Vale, on the house in which he was born in 1912, and in Richmond, on the house in which he lived from 1945-47.  Also that much of the hardware used at Bletchley Park was manufactured at the former Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill.

3 thoughts on “A Beautiful Mind

  1. rafterd1972

    How fascinating and how sad to think, had he lived in another era, his lifestyle would not have caused him to take his own life.


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