Happy Birthday Alan Turing:
The Father of Modern Computing
Winston Churchill’s rousing – and iconic – speeches during World War II secured his place in history as the flag bearer for good triumphing over evil. But there is someone else whose contribution to the allied forces victory went unnoticed for decades: Alan Mathison Turing.
Not only did his brilliance turn the direction of the war in Britain’s favour and hasten its end, in doing so it saved millions of lives. That alone would be enough of a legacy to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of history’s most celebrated figures – but he was not done there. His vision – and undoubted genius – paved the way for modern computing and produced pioneering insights into what has become known as “artificial intelligence.”
To mark what would be his 110th birthday on 23 June, TDM Group is celebrating the life of this national treasure, whose brilliance is still felt today.
Turing’s power to change the world for the better through innovation inspires us in everything we do at TDM Group.
To recognise this, we commissioned a painting of him, which hangs proudly in our office, reminding us of the awe-inspiring achievements of one of the most powerful thinkers of the 20th century.
World War II
Turing’s name has become synonymous with the top-secret wartime operations conducted by Britain’s codebreakers at Bletchley Park – a sprawling Victorian estate in Buckinghamshire. It was here that the mathematician – a Cambridge graduate – orchestrated and inspired the effort to decrypt ciphers created by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine, which had once been regarded as unbreakable.
During the war, Germany’s Army, Air Force and Navy were transmitting thousands of coded messages each day – ranging from detailed reports prepared by generals on the front line, and orders signed by Hitler himself, down to vital reports detailing the contents of supply ships. Thanks to Turing and his team of cryptologists at Bletchley Park, who were able to rapidly decode the messages, most of this invaluable intelligence fell into allied hands, allowing them to remain one step ahead of the enemy.
Turing personally cracked the form of Enigma code that was used by German U-boats prowling the Atlantic, preying on the merchant convoys carrying vital cargo for the war effort. This crucial turning point in the war secured the safety of vast cargoes of essential supplies bound for Britain – not to mention the lives of the crew members – and ensured the D-Day landings could be successfully executed in 1944.
After Turing’s contribution to the war effort eventually became public knowledge many years later, the growing fascination with his incredible story inspired the 2014 blockbuster movie “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Bletchley Park codebreaker.
The birth of computing
Turing’s scientific impact has been felt far beyond World War II battlefields and cinema screens; he established principles that have shaped the relationship between humans and the machines we create to solve problems. He essentially conceived computers as we know them today by developing what became known as the universal Turing machine, which envisioned one machine for all possible tasks.
Turing’s post-war efforts saw him focus on creating the first functioning British computers while working at the University of Manchester, which reflected the emerging power of electronic computing in the Cold War race for nuclear supremacy. His fascination with the interplay between human thought processes and their computerised inventions laid the foundations for what later became the ‘stored programme’ concept that’s essential to the modern computer.
Anyone that was unaware of the scale of Turing’s achievements was left in no doubt when President Barack Obama mentioned him in the same breath as other trans-Atlantic scientific greats, saying: “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.”
At TDM Group we strive to harness the power of innovation to drive our clients – and ourselves – forward. To help us achieve this, we take inspiration from one of the world’s greatest innovators by channelling our inner Alan Turing each day and ensuring his legacy lives on – a legacy that was sadly brushed under the carpet for too long because of the persecution he suffered.
Convicted under draconian Victorian laws as a homosexual and forced to endure chemical castration, Turing took his own life 55 years before the government apologised for his treatment in 2009. And only in 2013 did Queen Elizabeth II grant him a royal pardon.
Thankfully, his contribution to society continues to be recognised, with a newly-designed £50 note featuring his portrait entering circulation on what would have been the computer pioneer and wartime codebreaker’s birthday.