JUN 07, 2022 3:41 PM PDT

This Day in Science History 6/7/1954: Death of Alan Turing, Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.

WRITTEN BY: Amanpreet Kaur

Alan Turing, a British mathematical genius, was born in Paddington, London on June 23, 1912. His father was a civil servant stationed in India and his mother left him in England to be with his father when he was one year old. He was raised in England with family and friends. Although not the brightest pupil in school, he aced every mathematics competition and used his own personally developed methods to work on problems. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a degree in mathematics in 1934. After his time at King’s College, he invented the Turing machine, which was an abstract computer capable of implementing computing algorithms based on certain mathematical rules. He then moved to Princeton University for his Ph.D. and obtained it in 1938 in the field of Mathematics. One of his most celebrated accomplishments was during World War II, where he worked for the Government Code of Cyper School of Britain, and helped decipher the coded language of German’s Enigma machine. He was instrumental in enabling the Allies' victory during this world war including the famous Battle of the Atlantic. 

Today is a special day that marks the 68th anniversary of his death which has been highly controversial. The well-accepted theory is that he committed suicide by using cyanide and that his housekeeper found him dead in his bed with a half-eaten apple on his side table. It sounds very fair tail like from Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Many consider it quite strange that the apple was never tested for cyanide contents. 

However, there are various other theories that he was poisoned because of his sexual orientation. In those times, homosexuality was seen as indecency, and he was investigated and charged with ‘gross indecency’ at one point. Unfortunately, due to the fear of prosecution and loss of his job, he accepted “a cure” aka chemical castration which was a hormonal treatment that resulted in permanent changes to his body. Prof. Copeland, who has studied the life of Alan Turing in detail, has another possible explanation for his death. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has assembled the Turing Archive for the History of Computing.Turing kept cyanide at home and used it to perform some experiments in his spare time. Given that it’s a fact that even 0.8g of cyanide can kill someone, it is quite possible that he accidentally inhaled it which caused his untimely death. 

As Prof. Copeland noted, we will probably never know the real reason for his death, so let us focus on the positive and celebrate his accomplishments in life. 

Source: bbc.combritannica.comAlan Turing

About the Author
PhD in Physics
Aman (she/her) is a scientific writer at labroots and an astrophysics researcher at Penn State University. She works in the field of high-energy astrophysics such as black holes, gamma-rays, etc., and collects data from various space telescopes to conduct her research. She received her doctorate from Clemson University in Physics. On a personal note, she loves spending time out in nature; camping or hiking. If given a choice, she will decorate her house only with plants, did she say she likes plants? :D
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