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Turing's 100th Birthday
June 22, 2012 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Happy 100th birthday, Alan Turing! 2012 is the Alan Turing Year, with celebratory academic events around the world all year. BBC News has a set of (brief) appreciations, including one in which two of Turing's colleagues share memories. Google has an interactive Doodle of a Turing Machine today (that article has some explanation and links to a useful video if the doodle's confusing).

Good Turing resources that have been linked here previously:

Alan Turing.net has original documents from Turing's life and other figures in the early development of computing.

Turing.org is by a biographer of AT and has a timeline/bio and other secondary resources.
posted by LobsterMitten (27 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
A brilliant man who single-handedly did perhaps the most to defeat Axis fascism, and was promptly coerced into suicide by a different kind of fascism. You were too good for our society, Alan. RIP.
posted by anarch at 10:24 PM on June 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


The doodle is fun, but it's no Robozzle.
posted by Nomyte at 10:41 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other people look to Jesus for sacrifice but my martyr died in 1954.

RIMFP Alan Turing.
posted by Mike Mongo at 11:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


I should note that you can stream L.A. Theatre Works' radio adaptation of the Turing bioplay Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore here.
posted by mykescipark at 11:32 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Turing Day: Statutory Holiday. All shops and schools closed. An international day of reflection on how homophobia destroyed the Father of our Age.
posted by sarastro at 12:35 AM on June 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


I failed the Turing test.
posted by hypersloth at 2:16 AM on June 23, 2012


.

.
posted by hypersloth at 2:17 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post, LM.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


BBC news also carries the suggestion that Alan Turing: Inquest's suicide verdict 'not supportable'.
posted by CrowthorneRoad at 2:55 AM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how different the world might have turned out if he'd been here longer.

Great post.
posted by raena at 4:35 AM on June 23, 2012


My favorite mathematician. I try to include a few minutes of his story in all my courses.

What of the story at the bottom of the colleagues link, claiming his death may have been accidental rather than a suicide? I've never heard that argument. Does anyone have a link rebutting the claims in that link?
posted by monkeymadness at 5:16 AM on June 23, 2012


Another interactive tribute: an online simulator of Turing's Bombe, used to decrypt German codes during the war.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:41 AM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been an on-and-off again member of ACM for years, and when I re-upped my membership a little while back, I got a coffee mug with Alan Turing's picture on it, which I prize greatly*. If only we could somehow have whisked him away to the present day. I wonder what he would have made of everything, and perhaps he could have lived to a ripe old age in peace.

* I think they're doing a series. When I renewed last year, I got another mug with John Von Neumann. Collect 'em all!
posted by jquinby at 5:46 AM on June 23, 2012


What of the story at the bottom of the colleagues link, claiming his death may have been accidental rather than a suicide? I've never heard that argument. Does anyone have a link rebutting the claims in that link?

This is discussed in Andrew Hodges's biography. From my memory of that, this theory has been around since Turing's death, advanced by his mother and perhaps others. That article matches what I remember of the book fairly well. (I don't recall the 'breathed fumes' theory, only the 'accidental ingestion' theory.) Basically, given that no one checked the apple for cyanide, we have no way of confirming the 'apple dipped in cyanide' thing, or even that the apple was how the cyanide got into Turing's body. (I don't know that Turing's hands were checked either, though that wouldn't tell us much. I suppose you only need one hand to eat an apple, so it could suggest he didn't wash his hands properly, say.) That Turing's death could theoretically have been accidental is well known. The new part from that article is the idea that an inquest now would not return a suicide verdict based on the evidence the inquest heard in 1954.
posted by hoyland at 6:01 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


.,<>[]+-
posted by michaelh at 8:24 AM on June 23, 2012


Fact: In celebrating Alan Turing's birthday we are able to simulate the celebration of any celebrate-able birthday
posted by zamboni at 10:50 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I posted this, I hadn't scrolled all the way down the page on the main "Turing Year" page. Click on it and scroll about halfway down, below that long list of contributors -- you'll find a drawing of Turing as a schoolboy, done by his mother.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:59 AM on June 23, 2012


Hmm, that's odd that there's controversy about the suicide verdict, because I just read this, linked from elsewhere, this morning-

Next to Turing’s body was an apple, partly eaten. Years before, as some biographers have pointed out, Turing had gone to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the pioneering Disney film, in Cambridge, and was particularly taken with the scene where the Wicked Witch dangled an apple into a boiling cauldron: “Dip the apple in the brew. Let the Sleeping Death seep through”. One said that Turing had decided “to invest his departure from a world that had treated him shabbily with some of the gothic, eerie, colourful brilliance of a Disney film.”

The pathologist’s post-mortem report, reproduced in our new exhibition, suggests that the reality was more prosaic. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental: there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable. Hmm, that's odd that there's controversy about the suicide verdict, because I just read this, linked from elsewhere, this morning-


Linked article also suggests that Turing had a lifelong fascination w/ spirit-communication, and life after death, possibly stemming from the death, while he was at school, of an older boy with whom he was unrequitedly enamoured. And that he might have thought he'd be rejoining his friend in the afterlife.

Which, fuck... I guess that's one way to humanize one's heroes- by making their lives seem even more goddamned unbearably heartbreaking than they already did.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:21 PM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


eeeeeedit window, dammit! quote ends after 'wine glass'.
posted by hap_hazard at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2012


Another game based on the Turing Machine tape concept is Manufactoria.

More loosely related is SpaceChem, which doesn't have tapes, but has "heads" that move around a grid performing various tasks.
posted by ymgve at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Enigma Deviations: A codebreaker's death, Alan Turing, Bradley Manning, and machine intelligence.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:36 PM on June 23, 2012


Almost all of the pictures I see of Alan Turing portray him as sort of miltaristically stern, as if he were as enigmatically cold and logical as the machines he ushered in. This one, however, captures him with a genuine, twinkle-eyed, impish grin, and to me, makes him seem much more human, and his story all the sadder.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:39 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reading the BBC link which posits that his death could have been accidental -

One of the arguments in that article is that contrary to legend, Turing handled his persecution and imprisonment with a sort of dismissive, puckish amusement, which if true would diminish the "tortured soul" motive for suicide. Any more information or discussion about this?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:22 AM on June 24, 2012


It so happens that Turing's birthday coincides with Pride in San Francisco. (This of course happens frequently, since Pride doesn't move around, but I'd never seen it pointed out before.) The people at Prior Knowledge made a cake.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2012


from Letters of Note:
In 1952, he was charged with gross indecency after admitting to a sexual relationship with another man, and as a result was told to choose either imprisonment or chemical castration as punishment. He chose the latter. Alan Turing was found dead in 1954, aged just 41. The coroner's verdict was suicide.

Turing wrote the following letter in 1952 to his friend and fellow mathematician, Norman Routledge, shortly before pleading guilty.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:26 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


also, WIRED is running a lot on Turing, including this slideshow: Alan Turing’s Legacy Lives On
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:34 PM on June 24, 2012


as some biographers have pointed out,

So, I think this is a reference to David Leavitt's biography, which can charitably be called crap. (The Notices of the AMS had Andrew Hodges review it, which made for amusing reading, at least as someone who had read both biographies.) I don't think I can say much more, though, as what I remember of Leavitt's biography, which pushes the Snow White bit hard, is coloured by how much I hated it.

I've never heard about the stomach contents from the pathologist's report. That's interesting.
posted by hoyland at 6:19 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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