Alan Turing

Anthropology: How Alan Turing’s Work Shaped the Future of Computers and Encryption 

Alan Turing was one of Britain’s most significant figures in the twentieth century. Turing created the computer in 1936 as part of an effort to solve a perplexing question known as the Entscheidungsproblem. This monstrosity gave mathematicians a headache as they tried to figure out whether a particular mathematical statement could be proven true or incorrect using a step-by-step technique – what we now call an algorithm.

Turing tackled the challenge by inventing the machine that could store unlimited amounts of data on a tape. The symbols on the tape feed instructions to the machine, instructing it on how to alter other symbols. This so-called universal Turing machine is a mathematical model of current computers that we all use today.

Turing discovered that an algorithm using this approach could not solve some mathematical problems, putting a fundamental restriction on computation capacity. The Church–Turing thesis is named after the work of Alonzo Church, a US mathematician who Turing would later study for his doctorate at Princeton University in the United States.

Works of Turing

Alan Turing Work
Credit: Autodesk

Alan Turing, an English mathematician, published a paper called “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” in 1936 while pursuing his PhD at Princeton University. This paper became the cornerstone of computer science. Turing proposed a theoretical machine that could solve any problem stated by simple instructions written on a paper tape.

For example, one Turing Machine could solve Sudoku puzzles, while another could calculate square roots. Furthermore, Turing demonstrated that one could build a single Universal Machine to simulate any Turing Machine. A single computer can solve any problem and do any task for which one can develop a programme. He was the one who invented the computer.

Computers used to be individuals who generated actuarial tables and performed engineering calculations. However, the Allies faced a catastrophic shortage of human computers for military calculations as they prepared for World War II. When men went to war, the scarcity worsened, so the US industrialised the situation by developing the Harvard Mark 1, a 50-foot-long electromechanical monster. It could perform computations in seconds that would take humans hours to complete.

British Need for Specialists

The British also needed mathematicians to decipher the Enigma code used by the German Navy. Turing worked at Bletchley Park’s top-secret Government Code and Cipher School. Code-breaking became an industrial process, with 12,000 individuals working three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although the Poles had cracked Enigma before the war, the Nazis made the machines much more complex, with around 10114 potential permutations.

Turing devised the Bombe, an electromechanical machine that searched through the permutations. By the conclusion of the war, the British had deciphered all German Naval Enigma traffic daily. According to reports, Eisenhower stated that Turing and others’ contributions at Bletchley Park delayed the war by two years, saving millions of lives.

The business quickly recognised the benefits of computers as the 1950s proceeded, and business computing emerged as a new industry. Universal Turing Machines were used in all of these computers. By the 1970s, a generation had grown up with “electronic minds,” yet they desired their computers. The issue was that they had to construct them. The Homebrew Computer Club was founded in 1975 by a group of enthusiasts who were thrilled by the potential of new silicon chips to allow them to build their computers.

One of the Homebrew members was Steve Wozniak, a college dropout who built a rudimentary computer around the 8080 microprocessor and connected it to a keyboard and television. It was dubbed the Apple I by his buddy Steve Jobs, and he found a Silicon Valley shop willing to buy 100 of them for $500 each. Silicon Valley’s start-up culture was born when Apple made its first sale. Bill Gates, another college dropout, saw that PCs needed software and that customers were prepared to pay for it, so he decided to sell the programmes through his company, Microsoft.

Foreword Legacy of Alan Turing

Turing brought out a paper titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in the year 1950. Alan Turing believed that computers might one day grow so powerful that they would be able to think for themselves. He saw a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) was a reality.

So he came up with the Turing Test, which entails a judge sitting at a computer terminal typing questions to two entities, one of which is a person and the other is a machine. The judge determines which entity is human and which is artificial intelligence. If the judge is incorrect, the machine is intelligent and has passed the Turing Test.

Although Turing’s vision of AI has yet to be realised, AI is progressively becoming a part of our daily life. Artificial intelligence is used in-car satellite navigation systems and Google search engines. Siri on the iPhone can recognise the user’s speech and answer intelligently. Car manufacturers are developing autonomous vehicles, and several states in the United States are preparing legislation to allow them on the roads. Turing’s vision of AI will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

He faced charges of gross indecency in 1952 when being gay was a crime in the United Kingdom. He received a chemical castration sentence. It contributed to Turing’s despair, and in 1954 he committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple. Turing remained relatively unknown outside of academia due to the top-secret nature of his World War II work. Turing’s talent, his development of the computer, and artificial intelligence spread slowly.

Turing during WWII

The bombes of Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park Bombe
Credit: Wikipedia

During this phase, Alan Turing pitted the machine against the machine. Finally, in the spring of 1940, there was the setting up of the prototype model of his anti-Enigma “bombe,” dubbed simply as the Victory. Bletchley Park has transformed into a code-breaking factory thanks to his bombs. Turing’s machines were cracking 84,000 Enigma communications each month as early as 1943, a rate of two messages per minute. Turing personally deciphered the kind of Enigma employed by U-boats swarming trade convoys in the North Atlantic.

It was an extremely important contribution. The convoys left North America filled with massive amounts of vital supplies for Britain, but the U-boats’ torpedoes sank so many of them that Churchill’s strategists predicted that Britain would soon go hungry. Turing and his team cracked the U-boats’ transmissions to their European controllers just in time. Convoys could avoid U-boats in the huge Atlantic ocean if the U-boats revealed their positions.

Turingery

Turingery is a term used to describe a group of people. Turing also looked for a technique to decipher the flood of signals that had begun to emerge from a new, much more advanced German cypher machine. The new machine was given the codename Tunny by the British. The Tunny teleprinter communications network, a forerunner of today’s mobile phone networks, connected Hitler and the Army High Command in Berlin to the front-line generals across Europe and North Africa.

Turing’s breakthrough in 1942 led to the development of the first systematic method for deciphering Tunny signals. Turingery was his method at Bletchley Park, and the broken Tunny messages revealed precise knowledge of German tactics, which changed the course of the war. Turingery was the inspiration for Tommy Flowers’ Colossus, the first large-scale electronic computer, which included sophisticated Tunny-cracking algorithms.

Bletchley Park became the world’s first electronic computing facility with the installation of the Colossi – there were ten by the conclusion of the war. Turing’s work on Tunny was the third of his three strokes of genius in the attack on Germany’s codes, following the construction of the Bombe and the deciphering of the U-boat Enigma.

Alan Turing’s contributions to science and technology

Turing Computer
Credit: IEEE Spectrum

Turing computer

Alan Turing began to examine whether a method or process is establishable to determine whether a particular mathematical proposition was provable in his post-college years. Turing studied the systematic process, concentrating on logical instructions, mental action, and a computer that could take on a physical shape. Turing proved that automatic computation is incapable of solving all mathematical problems. The Turing machine was born out of this concept, and it has since become the cornerstone of contemporary computation and computability theory.

Turing expanded on this concept by imagining several Turing machines representing a distinct technique or algorithm. Each algorithm appear as a standard set of instructions, with the actual interpretation job being a mechanical process. As a result, each Turing computer encapsulated the algorithm, while a universal Turing machine could perform any task. Turing essentially invented the computer through this theorising: the single machine that can be programmed to perform any well-defined task given an algorithm.

Turing relocated to Princeton, New Jersey, to continue his PhD studies. He specialised on algebra and number theory and a cypher machine that multiplied binary numbers using electromagnetic relays. He took his findings back to England, where he worked part-time for the British cryptanalytic department in secret. Turing began full-time cryptanalytic work at Bletchley Park after the British declared war in 1939.

Enigma code

Alan Turing set out to crack the complicated Enigma code used in German naval communications, widely thought to be impenetrable. In mid-1941, Turing cracked the code, and regular decryption of German messages began. Turing introduced electronic technology to increase the speed of mechanical operations to maintain progress on code-breaking. Alan Turing proved to be a useful tool to the Allies, decoding numerous German transmissions successfully.

Turing was the lone scientist working on the concept of a universal machine that could tap into the speed and reliability of electrical technology before the conclusion of WWII. Computer science was born due to the development of early hardware and the programming implementation of arithmetical functions. Turing rose to prominence in the scientific world as the director of Manchester University’s computing laboratory and a Royal Society elected fellow.

Turing Test

Alan Turing was also a participant in philosophical disputes about whether robots might reason the same way as a human brain. To answer the question, he designed a test. He reasoned that a computer was sentient if it acted, reacted, and interacted like a sentient being. In this test, a probing interrogator asks questions of another person and a machine in this easy test. Based on their responses to his inquiries, the questioner must next discern between the human and the computer. It is intelligent if the computer can “deceive” the interrogator. The Turing Test is now at the centre of artificial intelligence debates.

Impact of Turing Test on Computer Science

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Alan Turing’s ideas are still in use today. It was first employed with early AI or an ancient computer game known as “ELIZA” (Gewirtz). ELIZA demonstrated early Alexa, Google Assistant, and other AI functions (Gewirtz). Google Duplex, a product that allows users to phone and make reservations using Google Assistant, recently passed the Test (Gewirtz). Many tests are alternatives to Turing’s or a supplement to Turing’s. “The Winograd Schema Challenge” is one of the most recent and extensively utilised exams or publications (Levesque). “The Winograd Schema Challenge” also raises concerns about the Test, stating, “Note the Central Role of Deception.”

Consider the example of an intelligent machine attempting to pass the test in the future. It must communicate with an interrogator and deceive her into believing she is dealing with a person than a machine. Of course, this is just a game, so it’s not lying” (Levesque). This study also addresses a variety of other issues. Although “The Winograd Schema Challenge” is a substitute, scientists nowadays employ both the Test and “The Winograd Schema Challenge” in tandem.

“A Test based on Winograd schemas is an excellent way to test a computer’s linguistic and cultural fluency than a basic five-minute chat. It is the conclusion of the researchers. It also raises the bar significantly. In 2016, all of the machines competing in one such tournament failed horribly” (Collins). The Test has had a huge impact on computer science by giving tools to determine whether a machine or AI is “humanlike.”

Later Years of Alan Turing

Turing’s homosexuality has never been a secret to him. He was openly taking male partners and was loud and joyful about his lifestyle. He was arrested and tried in 1952 when authorities discovered his sexual contact with a young man. Turing never disputed or justified his actions, claiming that nothing he did was incorrect. He was found guilty of gross indecency by the courts. Turing had to agree to a series of hormone injections to avoid incarceration. He continued his quantum physics and cryptanalysis studies, but security clearance was denied to known homosexuals. In 1954, however, Turing committed suicide after being convicted of “gross indecency” and condemned to a technique known as “chemical castration” when the United Kingdom banned homosexual actions. He has since become an LGBT community martyred hero. Queen Elizabeth II formally pardoned him in late 2013, nearly 60 years after his death.

Conclusion

Alan Turing was truly a pioneer in computer technology. He developed foundations for contemporary computing and proposed artificial intelligence theories.

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