DEV Community

Cover image for Happy 110th Birthday, Alan Turing! staff for The DEV Team

Posted on

Happy 110th Birthday, Alan Turing!

note: We published a version of this article last year. You can read it here.

Today, June 23, would have been the 110th birthday of Alan Turing: brilliant English mathematician, computer scientist, and crypto-analyst who made some truly remarkable contributions to the field we all love.

It's especially meaningful and poignant that Turing was born in June — a month that many countries now recognize as LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. That's because in addition to being a groundbreaking thinker and computer scientist, Alan Turing also happened to be a gay man born into a country that (like far too many) didn't decriminalize homosexuality until the late 1960s.

Turing died at the age of 41 shortly after being abused at the hands of his own government and convicted as a criminal for his sexuality. Not only was Alan Turing's life cut violently short, but his dazzling accomplishments were stripped away, his reputation tarnished.

That's why each year during his birth month, we celebrate the life and legacy of Alan Turing. As a community of code-obsessed people, we know you'll love reading about a few of his inventions and history-making projects as much as we do...

Decoding the Encryption of Nazi "Enigma" Machines

During World War II, Turing worked in a high position with Britain’s code-breakers at Bletchley Park. He helped create the original design for the "bombe": an electro-mechanical device to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages during World War II. This work helped reveal critical Nazi submarine pathways, contributing to the Allied forces’ eventual success.

The "Turing Test"

In 1950, Turing published a thought experiment to explore whether or not a computer could pass as a human being. The "Turing Test" required a human aid to pose questions to determine if the responses came from a computer or a human. While the test eventually revealed weaknesses, it became a critical milestone in the history of artificial intelligence.

Delilah: A Portable Secure Voice Communications Machine

During his time at Bletchley Park, Turing also created the "Delilah" — a portable machine that could encode a voice message securely and is now considered to have been decades ahead of its time.

Note: You can read a complete a transcription of Turing's Delilah report here.

... and much more. For an amazing and detailed look at Alan Turing's life, this obituary from The New York Times' "Overlooked" collection is worth a read.

What Alan Turing's Life Can Teach Us About Pride

Despite obvious accomplishments and service to his country, Alan Turing's life and work was cut short due to bigoted views about his sexuality. It's too easy to look at black and white photos of figures like Turing and convince ourselves that these human atrocities took place in a bygone era that has no relationship to this current moment.

But the truth is, Turing's conviction for "indecency" was just 70 years ago. A relative speck of time.

As software developers, it is, of course, our duty to never let what happened to Alan Turing happen again. But it's also important to continuously celebrate the joy and genius of LGBTQIA+ technologists willing to share their authentic lives with us. As a future-oriented field, technology depends on the participation, safety, and empowerment of all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

DEV Pride

You might remember that earlier this month, we shared the following message on DEV:

If you would like to share a story with us in honor of Pride Month, we would love to read it. Just use the tag #devpride so we can find it or use this template as a jumping off point.

DEV will be donating $10 USD to the Martha P. Johnson Institute for every #devpride story shared here. Read more about Martha P. Johnson and the #devpride celebration here

Happy Pride and Happy Birthday, Alan Turing!


Top comments (18)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

After my mom watched The Imitation Game, she told me if there were a Nobel Prize for computer science, they should give it to Alan Turing. I told her there is a Nobel Prize equivalent in computer science and it's called the Turing Award.

nikfp profile image
Nik F P

Very few people in history have done work so influential and far reaching as Alan Turing. His contributions to mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, and general computing aside, his impact on human culture may be his greatest achievement.

In the last 60 years, the human race has seen more cultural advancement and more change than at any other point in history. Globalization, mapping the human genome, machine learning, high speed communications, all wouldn't be possible without computers. Even things that are technically possible without them, like making a phone call, are now done completely with computerized systems. Everything we touch, everything we interact with, even the words that I'm writing now that you will be reading, are all affected by his work.

This man's contributions literally changed the world. It's sad that so few even know who he is.

frikishaan profile image
Ishaan Sheikh • Edited

I have learned about The Turing Machine in my engineering but I came to know about the man behind it after watching The Imitation Game. And I must say that he was an absolute genius, he was really ahead of his time.
However, unfortunately he didn't get the treatment he deserves.
I recommend every tech person to watch The Imitation Game once.

santospedroh profile image
Pedro H. Santos

The movie "The Imitation Game" is amazing, Thanks Alan Turing!

tealover418 profile image
Stijn de Ligt • Edited

I disagree strongly. His character was reduced to an autistic stereotype. Even though he might have been on the spectrum (not diagnosed), many people around him described him as a good friend and warm person. Instead he is presented as an unsociable, cold and calculated person.
All real sources were dropped to instead display him as a mix of Sheldon from big bang theory and Sherlock.
The same applies to other characters from that film as they are all based on real people. The family members of Commander Denniston, the main antagonist, even opened a lawsuit against the filmmakers for how poorly they represented him.

adriens profile image

I really loved this movie :

brownlaur57 profile image

Nice post. Hi everyone, I am new here. It's great to learn something new here and make friends with you guys. tunnel rush

Some comments may only be visible to logged-in visitors. Sign in to view all comments.