Birth: 23rd June, 1912
Place of Birth: Paddington, London
Nationality: British
Job title: Founder of computer science, mathematician, philosopher, code breaker
Partners: James Atkins, Neville Johnson various others unknown
Died: 8th June 1954 (aged 42)

Every culture has a fixed concept of what the perfect hero should be like. From when legends were told to children in front of the fire to the blockbuster films we see today, what we expect of a hero is universal. Our hero is strong, physically large, with abilities beyond that of the everyday person. They are kind, yet powerful enough to hold back the enemy single handed. Heroes do not give in despite injury or illness but carry on until the job is done, never giving up for a moment.

This month’s Gay Great certainly is a hero but he was not strong, big, powerful or especially brave. By all accounts, he was a gentle and highly sensitive man with little self confidence in social situations. So how did such a fragile man become one of the pivotal people who saved the world from Nazi occupation?

Although almost certainly conceived in India, Alan Mathison Turing was actually born on 23rd June in Paddington, London. His father was a Civil Servant and his mother the daughter of an accomplished engineer and they both lived in Madras, India. For Turing and his older brother John, their early life was a game of ‘pass the parcel’ as they moved from foster family to foster family while their parents lived on in India. Although not an uncommon state of affairs for the time, it was still an undesirable start to life. Both brothers soon learnt to look after and occupy themselves.

Turing did not show immediate promise at school. His attention was apt to wander and his attainment in basic subjects was average, to say the least. More worrying was his inability to mix with other children. At school he was silent and spent most of his time alone. At home his time was filled with reading about science, a passion first aroused by a book bought for him by his father called Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know. Worries about Turing’s development were laid aside when he managed to attain a place at Sherborne Public School in Dorset.

It was there, when he was 16, that a fateful meeting took place. Christopher Morcom was a brilliant student, in the year above Turing. The two became firm friends and Turing was filled with a deep admiration, bordering on sexual lust for the older boy. Morcom shared Turing’s love of science and mathematics and the two would often sit in the school library musing over an equation rather than completing their homework. The doodles and graffiti in both students’ notebooks displayed a high level of knowledge of relativity as well as many mathematical disciplines. Turing was in awe of Morcom’s mind which seemed to have no boundaries to original thought. For two years, the boys spent every possible minute of their lives together. Turing wrote that his trip to see Cambridge University with Morcom was special only because he had the chance spend a whole weekend with his best friend.

Turing’s life came crashing down around him when Morcom suddenly died. Turing was devastated. The person who made him feel so alive, the first human he had been able to freely communicate with, was gone. His depressed state produced some morbid thoughts. One question especially haunted him; where was Morcom’s wonderful mind now? Surely something so strong couldn’t have died with him? Was the mind purely physical and therefore rotting away with the rest of his body or was the brain just a medium for something which always exists? His search for an answer led him towards several new areas of science, namely logic, quantum physics and a subject that would come to be known as artificial intelligence. Morcom’s death, although a wrenching pain, would set him on a train of thought that would culminate in Turing creating a machine which would change the world and revolutionise every aspect of life.

Turing’s studies went beyond the morbidity of dwelling on Morcom’s mind and he began to think about the creation and nature of intelligence. A year after Morcom’s death, he took up a place at King’s College in Cambridge to study mathematics. The liberal atmosphere of Cambridge was the ideal place for him. He soon started to make friends, take part in social activities and spend a lot of time rowing and running. He even found another best friend and occasional lover in James Atkins, a talented fellow mathematics student who later became an accomplished musician.

After gaining a distinguished degree in 1934 and then a fellowship to King’s a year later, Turing decided not to take the obvious route of joining the university staff. Instead, he set about discovering the answer to a question that had puzzled mathematicians for some time. The Entscheidungsproblem, as it was known, asked the question of whether there could ever be a way of testing general statements made in a mathematic equation which were said to be universally true. This, of course, would take an infinite amount of work as every possible equation would need to be tested. Was there a short cut, a single algorithm that could solve the problem?

With a lot of work, Turing found a possible solution. Unfortunately, so did somebody else. Across the Atlantic, Alonzo Church published his paper on the Entscheidungsproblem just before Turing did. But although his thunder had been stolen, there were some ideas in Turing’s work that started fellow mathematicians thinking. He had created not just a theory, but the idea of a machine to work out the problem. Turing’s machines became a big talking point. For the first time, a physical object had been designed to work out a theoretical problem. He took the idea forward even further and proposed a ‘universal machine’ which could take any type of algorithm and put it to the test, dispensing with the need for a different machine for every problem. Turing had become the first man to bridge the gap between theory and reality.

Naturally, Turing’s career would not be complete without a PHD and so he spent two years at Princeton University working towards one. After he had completed his thesis, Princeton offered him a post on their staff (and a nice pay packet to go with it) but back in Europe, it was clear that war was about to break out. Knowing his skills would be invaluable in modern warfare, Turing headed back to the UK and spent a year learning all he could about Cryptography, the study of codes and how to break them. It was his way of preparing himself for war.

Every culture has a fixed concept of what the perfect hero should be like. From when legends were told to children in front of the fire to the blockbuster films we see today, what we expect of a hero is universal. Our hero is strong, physically large, with abilities beyond that of the everyday person. They are kind, yet powerful enough to hold back the enemy single handed. Heroes do not give in despite injury or illness but carry on until the job is done, never giving up for a moment.

This month’s Gay Great certainly is a hero but he was not strong, big, powerful or especially brave. By all accounts, he was a gentle and highly sensitive man with little self confidence in social situations. So how did such a fragile man become one of the pivotal people who saved the world from Nazi occupation?

Although almost certainly conceived in India, Alan Mathison Turing was actually born on 23rd June in Paddington, London. His father was a Civil Servant and his mother the daughter of an accomplished engineer and they both lived in Madras, India. For Turing and his older brother John, their early life was a game of ‘pass the parcel’ as they moved from foster family to foster family while their parents lived on in India. Although not an uncommon state of affairs for the time, it was still an undesirable start to life. Both brothers soon learnt to look after and occupy themselves.

Turing did not show immediate promise at school. His attention was apt to wander and his attainment in basic subjects was average, to say the least. More worrying was his inability to mix with other children. At school he was silent and spent most of his time alone. At home his time was filled with reading about science, a passion first aroused by a book bought for him by his father called Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know. Worries about Turing’s development were laid aside when he managed to attain a place at Sherborne Public School in Dorset.

It was there, when he was 16, that a fateful meeting took place. Christopher Morcom was a brilliant student, in the year above Turing. The two became firm friends and Turing was filled with a deep admiration, bordering on sexual lust for the older boy. Morcom shared Turing’s love of science and mathematics and the two would often sit in the school library musing over an equation rather than completing their homework. The doodles and graffiti in both students’ notebooks displayed a high level of knowledge of relativity as well as many mathematical disciplines. Turing was in awe of Morcom’s mind which seemed to have no boundaries to original thought. For two years, the boys spent every possible minute of their lives together. Turing wrote that his trip to see Cambridge University with Morcom was special only because he had the chance spend a whole weekend with his best friend.

Turing’s life came crashing down around him when Morcom suddenly died. Turing was devastated. The person who made him feel so alive, the first human he had been able to freely communicate with, was gone. His depressed state produced some morbid thoughts. One question especially haunted him; where was Morcom’s wonderful mind now? Surely something so strong couldn’t have died with him? Was the mind purely physical and therefore rotting away with the rest of his body or was the brain just a medium for something which always exists? His search for an answer led him towards several new areas of science, namely logic, quantum physics and a subject that would come to be known as artificial intelligence. Morcom’s death, although a wrenching pain, would set him on a train of thought that would culminate in Turing creating a machine which would change the world and revolutionise every aspect of life.

Turing’s studies went beyond the morbidity of dwelling on Morcom’s mind and he began to think about the creation and nature of intelligence. A year after Morcom’s death, he took up a place at King’s College in Cambridge to study mathematics. The liberal atmosphere of Cambridge was the ideal place for him. He soon started to make friends, take part in social activities and spend a lot of time rowing and running. He even found another best friend and occasional lover in James Atkins, a talented fellow mathematics student who later became an accomplished musician.

After gaining a distinguished degree in 1934 and then a fellowship to King’s a year later, Turing decided not to take the obvious route of joining the university staff. Instead, he set about discovering the answer to a question that had puzzled mathematicians for some time. The Entscheidungsproblem, as it was known, asked the question of whether there could ever be a way of testing general statements made in a mathematic equation which were said to be universally true. This, of course, would take an infinite amount of work as every possible equation would need to be tested. Was there a short cut, a single algorithm that could solve the problem?

With a lot of work, Turing found a possible solution. Unfortunately, so did somebody else. Across the Atlantic, Alonzo Church published his paper on the Entscheidungsproblem just before Turing did. But although his thunder had been stolen, there were some ideas in Turing’s work that started fellow mathematicians thinking. He had created not just a theory, but the idea of a machine to work out the problem. Turing’s machines became a big talking point. For the first time, a physical object had been designed to work out a theoretical problem. He took the idea forward even further and proposed a ‘universal machine’ which could take any type of algorithm and put it to the test, dispensing with the need for a different machine for every problem. Turing had become the first man to bridge the gap between theory and reality.

Naturally, Turing’s career would not be complete without a PHD and so he spent two years at Princeton University working towards one. After he had completed his thesis, Princeton offered him a post on their staff (and a nice pay packet to go with it) but back in Europe, it was clear that war was about to break out. Knowing his skills would be invaluable in modern warfare, Turing headed back to the UK and spent a year learning all he could about Cryptography, the study of codes and how to break them. It was his way of preparing himself for war.

Then in 1952, the worst happened. Turing called the police after his wallet was stolen by a man he had been to bed with the night before. The police asked many questions to which Turing held nothing back. Hours later, he was arrested for homosexual acts. In his trial, he was offered the option of either a jail sentence or his promise that he would receive estrogen injections for a year to neutralise his libido. He took the injections and attempted to carry on with his work. The next year, he took many holidays to Greece, Corfu, Paris and other well known gay hot spots. But the holidays were not enough. He wanted to live his life at home as a gay man and believed that the world should allow him to do so. But his expectations were far before his time. Homosexuality was still very much illegal and gays were still viewed with the same condemnation as paedophiles were. Almost exactly ten years after D-Day, a day when Turing’s work helped hundreds of thousands of men land on the Normandy beaches and begin the end of the war, he was found dead at home by his cleaner. By his side was an apple covered in a poisonous chemical. His suicide was planned to be open to interpretation, especially by his mother who knew he was often careless with his chemicals and truly believed it was simply a horrific accident. To his friends and those who knew him well, it was obvious that, weary from the pressures of the establishment he was such a key part of, Turing had decided to take his own life.

Without Turing’s visionary work, who knows if any of us would have cash machines, computer games, PC’s or laptops, let alone a free world to live in. In a time when even the simplest form of ‘thinking machine’ took up a whole building, he had the foresight to dream up computer networks, design software and create programmable hardware. Maybe in days gone by, the time honoured image of a hero makes sense. But in today’s modern world of warfare, when hand-to-hand combat is the final resort, it is not the big men in the battle field who make the difference, but the ones who work tirelessly with no other tools than their own brain. Alan Turing was one such great hero.

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