British mathematician and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing was born 99 years ago today, on 23 June 1912. Turing created the method which allowed British codebreakers to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma cipher, and is widely considered the father of modern computer science; in 1948, for one example, he wrote a chess program which required a computer more powerful than any which yet existed—so he simulated the computer himself in some early trials, taking about 30 minutes per move. His Turing Test, a measure of the ability of an artificial intelligence system to act in a way indistinguishable from a human, remains a crucial concept in AI engineering.
In 1952, Turing reported a break-in at his home by a man named Arthur Murray, with whom he admitted having sexual relations. Both men were charged with “gross indecency,” and Turing was forced to undergo chemical castration in lieu of imprisonment. He died two years later of cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide, though his family has insisted his death was accidental. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology for the government’s handling of the Turing case.