The forty pages on which all computers rely

Alan Turing (London, June 23, 1912 – Wilmslow, June 7, 1954)

A complicated machine like the computer, of course, has countless fathers, but the man who developed the theory on which all information processing systems are based between May 1935 and May 1936 undoubtedly stands out. His name was Alan Turing and he was born in Great Britain.

Turing's father worked as a tax officer for the British government in India. Turing's mother also came from a family of Indians. During a holiday in Great Britain, they briefly gave birth to their son Alan and then entrusted him to a foster family.

When the boy was fourteen, his father resigned after a conflict at work. As a result, the Turings returned to England and struggled financially for the rest of their lives.

The young Turing fought for one scholarship after another and with great difficulty ended up in Cambridge to study mathematics.

Alan Turing Turing was extremely timid and spoke with difficulty, almost stuttering. Only he himself could read his writing, which was a huge problem for him in exams, even at university.

In 1927 he fell hopelessly in love with one of his male fellow students; he discovered his homosexuality, but was afraid to reveal it. Three years later, his friend died unexpectedly, which upset him for years.

Pure mathematics was Turing's domain. In the work he wrote in 1935 and 1936, barely forty pages thick, he combined a mechanical image of the mind with the logic of pure mathematics.

He sent it to scientific friends and acquaintances, but hardly anyone understood what he was doing, and that made him depressed.

By 1938 war was in the air and the British gathered the brightest minds in the country at Bletchley Park to decipher the internal communications of the German army. The sophistication of the German enigma encoding device left the British decipherers completely grounded.

In September 1939 they brought in Alan Turing. He was commissioned to develop a machine that could work through a million settings in a matter of hours. Turing succeeded with his team. In doing so, he contributed significantly to the success of the Allies.

After 1945 he worked on the programming of the first large computers, including in Manchester.

A friend of a friend broke into his house one day and stole some things: a pair of trousers, a shirt, a compass and half a bottle of sherry. In his unworldliness, Turing reported the silly break-in to the police. After some investigation it came to light that homosexuality was involved.

And homosexuality was a perversion forbidden by law. Turing wrote a five-page statement for police detailing his relationship in great detail. The greatest British mathematician of his day suddenly turned out to be a sex offender.

He was in danger of being imprisoned for two years. On March 31, 1952, he received only a suspended sentence. But he had to take a course of hormones, supposedly to cure his horrible disease.

The hormones gave him woman's breasts, but he survived it all and by April 1953 he was apparently through it all.

A year later, his housekeeper found him dead in bed. Next to him was half an apple. It soon turned out that he had first dipped the apple in cyanide and then poisoned himself. Maybe to cover up the suicide in front of his mother.
What had happened? Debates had been going on for months in parliament to ban homosexuals from civil service, especially the secret service, because their sexual orientation made them vulnerable to blackmail. Turing had worked for the Secret Service, directly or indirectly, for fifteen years.

After 1952 it was considered unreliable and a threat to the state – Manchester computer prototype, June 1948 corpse. He no longer had a future.

Manchester gave its name to the main ring road around the city in 1994 and in 2001 a bronze statue followed in the city center – Turing sitting on a bench. In 2000, Time Magazine listed him among the top twenty greatest scholars of the twentieth century.

And the hero of the British gay movement, he had always been after his death.

(See also: world wide web)

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