Alan Turing would have turned 100 this week, an event that would have, no doubt, been greeted with all manner of pomp — the centennial of a man whose mid-century concepts would set the stage for modern computing. Turing, of course, never made it that far, found dead at age 41 from cyanide poisoning, possibly self-inflicted. His story is that of a brilliant mind cut down in its prime for sad and ultimately baffling reasons, a man who accomplished so much in a short time and almost certainly would have had far more to give, if not for a society that couldn’t accept him for who he was.
The London-born computing pioneer’s name is probably most immediately recognized in the form of the Turing Machine, the “automatic machine” he discussed in a 1936 paper and formally extrapolated over the years. The concept would help lay the foundation for future computer science, arguing that a simple machine, given enough tape (or, perhaps more appropriately in the modern sense, storage) could be used to solve complex equations. All that was needed as Turing laid it out, was a writing method, a way of manipulating what’s written and a really long ream to write on. In order to increase the complexity, only the storage, not the machine, needs upgrading.
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