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Born on June 23, 1912, Alan Mathison Turing was one of the foremost mathematicians of the 20th century and is considered the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. His birth centenary is being celebrated the world over and conferences, symposiums, festivals and parades are being held in a number of countries, including China, India, the UK and the US.

Born in London, Turing pursued mathematics at Cambridge and later at Princeton. As a graduate student at Cambridge, he first imagined a computational machine to render concrete, abstract mathematical concepts. As it turned out, the ‘Turing Machine’ was a conceptual precursor to the modern day computer.

In 1938, Turing worked as a wartime code-breaker at Bletchley Park, Britain’s wartime communications headquarters where he played a key role in designing the Bombe, an electronic machine that could decode messages encrypted by the Germans, providing the allies with vital information. Turing was awarded an OBE in 1945 for his wartime services.

Turing’s work impacted more than mathematics and logic. In 1950, he introduced the ‘Turing Test’ in a paper titled Computing Machinery and Intelligence. The Test determined whether or not a machine could be termed ‘intelligent’, and continues to be used to this day.

Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41. In a letter he wrote to a friend before he died, he stated, “Turing believes machines think; Turing lies with men; therefore machines do not think.”

Turing’s enduring legacy continues to demonstrate how his work changed the course of history. He now ranks among the select few who can claim to have made a significant impact on human civilisation.

– Zakir Thaver

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on June 24, 2012.

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