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Alan Turing: The Father Of Computer Science

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“I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?” (Turing 1950, 1). If machines could think, would they think like humans? Could they be programmed to think like humans and the way their mind works while carrying out procedures? Those were the types of questions Alan Turing continued to ask throughout his years studying technology, science, and mathematics. His mind ran wild with new opportunities, seeing that there was a machine that could be built to solve problems within a matter of seconds. This is where the history made by Alan Mathison Turing begins, in the midst of unsolved equations and theories just waiting to be discovered.

Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912, in London to upper-middle class parents. At Sherborne School, he showed an interest in science and mathematics at a very young age, and proved to be of high intelligence. He often came to an uneven ground with authorities because of his sceptical attitude, and his humor was always changing between cheerful and upbeat to gloomy which prevented him from interacting well with others. Turing studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge University, and was elected as Fellow in the year 1935. While Turing studied at King’s College, he also wrote a paper, “On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” in 1936 to 1937, which would prove to be his first greatest achievement, and he would later be recognized greatly for this paper in the field of computer science. “On Computable Numbers…” gave a true definition to computation and absolute limitation on what computation could truly achieve. Turing graduated from Cambridge in 1934, with an outstanding degree in mathematics, which was followed by a nicely put dissertation in probability theory. This research led him to Princeton for more in-depth research on logic and mathematics. Turing then returned to Britain in 1938, and was then pulled into the British Communications War. In the years 1939 to 1945 he studied the German machine called Enigma.

Enigma posed a problem for the United States and Britain during World War II, and Britain put together a team at Bletchley Park to solve the German enciphering machine they dubbed Enigma. The machine was complex, and constantly sent out messages to German U-boats that continued to take down United States and British Navy forces, as well as boats carrying civilians. Turing became the chief scientific figure in his U-boat communications with his ambition to create an electronic computer capable of computing all computable symbols and numbers by the end of World War II. Many of the people who surrounded Turing during World War II believed that the machine would not amount to anything, and in his 1950 paper he wrote, “The view that machines cannot give rise to surprises is due, I believe, to a fallacy to which philosophers and mathematicians are particularly subject”. Although he did a great deal by solving the Enigma with his machine and preparing the United States and Britain for attacks, his plans and achievements were overshadowed by American projects, so his plans were not recognized during the wartime mission. The idea of Alan Turing’s universal machine took a lot of planning, and was based on the theory that a computer could easily rival the human brain. After Turing created his machine, solved Enigma, and handed the United States and Britain multiple victories, it was estimated that he saved about fourteen-million lives. But the machine that saved the day was far more complex than anyone may have realized at the time.

Turing’s machine easily rivaled the Enigma. The German machine was told to have such an abundance of settings that it would take twenty-million years to undo, decode, and solve every single one. But the universal Turing Machine took it down, and solved the in-depth cyphers the German’s had been passing back and forth, baffling the creators of Enigma as well as the British government. Alan Turing took a lot of the fuel for his ideas from the 1928 to 1933 work of A.S. Eddington, J.von Neumann, and Bertrand Russell. Alan was fascinated and enthralled with theories containing mind over matter, and how one can severely affect the other. He applied the theory of mind over matter or matter over mind to Hilbert’s arithmetic and mathematical “Entscheidungsproblem,” and used it to create his universal machine. The machine works simply with a tape that moves in both directions and is able to create, erase, and read symbols.

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Turing’s invention would only compute computable numbers, or real numbers, which are considered to be infinite decimals, in which Turing states,“We have said that the computable numbers are those whose decimals are calculable by finite means”. Once the machine has computed the infinite decimals, the machine would then print them one digit at a time on a blank tape before moving to the right. As easy as it sounds, it was not intended to be engineered, but it was important the atomic parts such as the tape, movement, direction, and symbols could be implemented if the machine were to be engineered.There are considered to be an infinite amount of Turing Machines that are categorized and subcategorized by functions, ‘table of behaviour,’ and description numbers. A complex Turing machine could compute infinite expansions of pi.

The way the machines are counted are the same way computer scientists count programs, and they can be ordered in alphabetical order that contains their ‘table of behaviour.’ To add, the ‘tables of behaviour’ are what classify the machine, and Stanford Plato stated, “It therefore escaped observers that Turing was ahead of von Neumann and everyone else on the future of software, or as he called it, the ‘construction of instruction tables.’ Turing (1946) foresaw at once…” (Stanford Plato). The ordering of the machines was created by encoding the ‘tables of behaviour’ into description numbers. This is what is considered to be advanced in software and computer science. In the list and among Turing’s inventions with satisfactory description numbers are subset machines used to print out the infinite decimals. The Turing Machine works out number X from machine Y that has a satisfactory description number. Then the Turing Machine prints out the Z number differing from the Y number. As the Turing Machine continues it’s work, it prints an infinite decimal that has a satisfactory description number. It is a machine working with a subset machine to send messages back to the beginning to be printed.

This is where the modern technology functions come from today. Then what was the point if the machine can not be engineered? It all comes down to what we now call Artificial Intelligence. Turing studied the human brain in order to perfect his universal machine. To study the human brain, he needed to understand the way it works, and he researched it throughout the years he worked at Bletchley Park. Turing’s research included ‘state of mind,’ how humans think, process events, and surroundings, which he applied to his machines. He worked with smaller machines relaying encrypted messages to each other in order to completely fulfill the idea of the overall Turing Machine that took down the German Enigma.

Turing also focused on other aspects of study, including mathematical theories of morphogenesis. Morphogenesis is explained to be the the development of something morphogenic, or something that has morphogenic characteristics. Turing considered the computability involving quantum-mechanical physics, and discussed his 1950’s paper on a BBC radio program where he applied quantum-mechanical physics to the human brain. The idea that the brain can be calculated and predicted, with quantum-mechanical physics being the basis of the brain, is still used today when trying to understand natural human impulses and the way, as well as reasons why, humans make the choices they do. This theory included the idea of free-will. Alan Turing took a good portion of his understanding of quantum-mechanical physics from Eddington and von Neumann. Not only did Turing dabble in philosophy, logic, cryptology, science, and mathematics, but he also created the definition used today as ‘computable numbers.’ “In particular, I show that certain large classes of numbers are computable” (Turing 1936, p.1). Most of Alan Mathison Turing’s work is now applied in wars today, which includes science, mathematics, and the prediction of human choices. “This development exemplifies the lasting value of Turing’s special quality of giving concrete illustration to abstract concepts”.

Alan Turing died on June seventh of 1954 after he had taken a bite out of a cyanide poisoned apple. Though Turing did not believe in a Supreme Being Christians believe is God, the apple he ate is considered by some to be the ‘Eden of his intelligence.’ Some researchers believe Alan Turing’s death was an accident, that he forgot that the apple was part of one of his many experiments. Conspiracy theorists are inclined to believe that Turing was killed by the government because of his knowledge and the way he presented himself and his involvement with the special assignment during World War II. Then there are others who believe it was a suicide, that he could not put up with the way people had been treating him after the war, and that his efforts to place a polished mask over his identity had slipped away. No matter the way Alan Turing died or why he died will not affect the way researchers, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers view him today, with the great deal he donated to the advancement of technology in the present, past, and future. Alan Mathison Turing once said, “Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.”

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