23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954
Alan Turing grew up in a relatively wealthy family in London and showed an early interest in science. He attended Cambridge University after excelling at school and studied mathematics. After graduating, he spent time at Princeton in America where he gained an interest in cryptology – the study of secret codes.
When World War II began he worked to crack the codes of the Germans, particularly the Enigma Code. His skill and willingness to tackle problems that seemed unsolvable was important. His solutions were pivotal, perhaps changing the course of the war. He was never allowed to speak of his involvement in the war.
After the war he worked on early computers. Again, his work was world-changing. Since 1966, the computer world’s most prestigious award is the Turing Award, given to a person for technical contributions to the computing community.
Turing was gay and Britain’s laws considered that illegal. He was found guilty of gross indecency after admitting a relationship and sentenced to jail or chemical castration. He chose the latter, but apparently killed himself two years later by eating a cyanide-laden apple. In 2002, Turing was ranked twenty-first on the BBC nationwide poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. In 2009, the Prime Minister issued a formal apology to Turing.