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Alan Turing

Alan Turing (1912-1954) was an English mathematical genius who made giant contributions to the early theory and practice of computing: The Association for Computing Machinery's Turing Award, the highest award in computing, is named in his honor.

He was into long-distance running decades before it became cool.

He was interested in a wide range of problems, developing for example a mathematical model to explain how the leopard might get its spots and the zebra its stripes -- still a major research problem in biology (morphogenesis) chemistry (reaction-diffusion systems) and mathematics.

He was a principal member of the team which developed the Colossus computer that cracked the German Enigma code, thus making a major contribution to winning WW II which remained highly classified through the 1970s.

He contributed to to the design and implementation of the post-WW II generation of British electronic computers.

And he was unabashadly gay, leading the American CIA to basically hound him to death as undesirable to have involved in Important Secret Stuff, depriving him and us of half of one of the most brilliant careers in the history of computing: Artificial intelligence has made lamentably little progress since his death, and I cannot help but wonder what he might have produced give a few more decades in which to work.

My favorite Turing quote is something to the effect that he didn't want to built an electronic genius, that he would be quite satisfied to produce a mediocre brain such as that of the president of Atlantic Telephone and Telegraph.

The definitive biography of Alan Turing is:

Alan Turing: The Enigma Andrew Hodges, SIMON AND SHUSTER 1983, ISBN 0-671-49207-1

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