Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Brilliant Life Lost

In the last chapter of The Code Book by Simon Singh, a brilliant mind was introduced to the world of cryptology. Alan Turing was the cryptanalyst who, during World War II, identified the Enigma's greatest weakness and ruthlessly exploited it. It is because of his genius and work ethic that the Allies were able to win the war. Without him, they would have been set back months, maybe even years, and most likely would have lost the war.

Turing was born in Britain in 1912. His father was part of the Indian civil service, so when Turing was just over 1 year old his parents returned to India and left him in the care of nannies and friends until he was old enough to attend boarding school. In school he was shy and awkward and didn't have many friends, but he excelled in the subject of science.

His one true friend, Christopher Morcom, also had an interest in science. They motivated each other and fueled their intellectual curiosity. Turing had deeper feelings than just friendship for his friend, but Morcom was unaware of this fact. In fact, Turing never got the chance to tell him because Morcom died suddenly of tuberculosis in 1930.

Turing was devastated at the loss of his friend and lover, but his friend's smarts and determination inspired Turing to work even harder to succeed in science and live up to Morcom's ingenuity. The next year, Turing attended King's College at Cambridge and acquired an interest in mathematics. He is most well known for his mathematical paper titled "On Computable Numbers."

All of this hard work did not go unnoticed, and before Turing graduated he was invited to become a cryptanalyst at Bletchley, the headquarters for deciphering enemy encoded messages. There, Turing was extremely successful. He found ways to break messages sent via Enigma Machines by the Germans, which was previously believed to be impossible. He also created machines called bombes that analyzed and cracked codes sent through the Enigma. Though it was a team effort, Turing stood out at Bletchley as the most influential and brilliant person on the job.

Unfortunately, Turing's and everyone else at Bletchley's work had to remain anonymous, even after the wars end. They weren't given credit until much later, but by that point, Turing had sadly already died. In 1952, Turing was reporting a burglary and accidentally revealed to police that he was in a homosexual relationship. He was arrested and fined, and the incident appeared in newspapers. Turing was so humiliated, he took his own life by eating an apple he soaked in cyanide solution.

It is sad to think that such a brilliant and influential mind never got to experience the glory and honor he deserved for his noble work. Turing deserves recognition for his historical work, and it is up to us to recognize and remember his achievements that offered so much to this world.

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