Alan Turing: Reimagining What's Possible I Oxford Open Learning

    Alan Turing

    Alan Turing: Reimagining What’s Possible

    What do you think of when you hear the name Alan Turing?

    Some consider him the founding father of modern computer science; others associate him with the Turing machine – a precursor to the first computer. For others, his name is synonymous with the endless possibilities of humankind. Perhaps for this reason alone, he remains an inspirational figure.


    Born in London in 1912, Turing attended Sherborne School in Dorset between 1926-1931. Turing’s school days have informed the backdrop of the 2014 Morten Tyldum film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. During this time, Turing is a shy but academically gifted student whose friendship with a boy called Christopher will go on to inspire an invention that changes the world.

    While studying for his PhD at Princeton University, Turing began to develop what we now call the Turing Test, a method of determining if a machine can think like a human being through a verbal conversation. The Turing Test was a substantial breakthrough, as no previous mechanism had ever been devised to measure machine intelligence to that capability.

    Alan Turing And The Advent Of The Computer Age

    In 1937, Turing published a paper which laid the groundwork for modern computing known as the ‘Universal Turing Machine’. This paper laid down principles that modelled a computing machine’s behaviour. The paper demonstrated that an appropriately programmed machine could simulate any physical computing.

    Turing also developed the concept of ‘Turing machines’, now the basis of most computers.

    These machines used switches and electric circuits to store information, allowing them to solve problems, operate more quickly and accurately, and complete complex operations much faster than humans. He also provided a conception of what we would now term ‘algorithm’, which we still use today to describe a set of instructions for a computer.

    World War II was especially consequential for Alan Turing, as he helped to decipher Nazi codes during the conflict. By interpreting these codes, he helped to shorten the war by two years and saved up to 14 million lives. His artificial intelligence breakthroughs also led to the creation of the first programmable computer, the ‘Manchester Baby’.

    Personal Tragedy

    Unfortunately, Alan Turing’s life was destined tor tragic conclusion. Turing was a gay man living in the 1950s – when homosexuality was illegal. The British Police subsequently investigated him for homosexuality, and he was chemically castrated. It is believed that this contributed to his death by suicide in 1954. Queen Elizabeth II posthumously pardoned Alan Turing in 2013 following a public outcry concerning how the government treated him.

    Despite facing unthinkable discrimination, Turing’s tremendous contributions to computer science and mathematics were impossible to ignore. He proved that anything is possible by frequently pushing boundaries and taking risks. His legacy lives on through his achievements and is a significant pillar of STEM education today.

    Alan Turing’s ambition and brilliance exemplify the value of continuously innovating and expanding computing and artificial intelligence. He consistently redefined the limits of computing and achieved success from pure creativity and determination. His memory should continue to inspire future generations to strive for excellence and think outside the box. In Turing’s words:

    “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

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    Jessica is a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Richmond-Upon-Thames. With a degree in English Literature from University College London, she has experience as a private tutor for 14-18 years olds and adult learners. She has also worked in Widening Participation as a Mentor, Student Ambassador, and Student Leader. As someone who achieved A-Levels through distance-learning, Jessica has first-hand experience of the unique challenges and rewards that distance-learning offers. She regularly contributes content to educational websites including eNotes and Tutorful.