01/05/06 - alan turing

In today's excerpt British genius Alan Turing invents the modern computer and later is convicted for his homosexuality:

"Typically for Turing, work on his computable numbers was completely original rather than a derivative of someone else's groundbreaking result.  In fact, it was so original that the American logician Alonzo Church had arrived at the same result  ... by radically different means.  Church ... invited him to come to Princeton University to study with him ...

"After [World War II] von Neumann (at Princeton) and Turing each worked on projects to develop the first real computer.  They each envisioned a computer containing stored instructions.  But that is where the similarity ended. von Neumann had intended that the instructions stored in the computer could not be modified ... Turing went much further. He suggested that computers store a set of instruction tables that could be called as desired with the desired inputs. Turing had devised the art of programming an automatic electronic digital computer with internal program storage!

"In 1952 ... the authorities charged him with the crime of 'Gross Indecency' (homosexuality). ... Following his conviction, Turing chose to submit himself to estrogen therapy rather than a two-year prison sentence. The estrogen therapy led to impotence (as intended), and severe depression. ...

"Turing committed suicide in 1954."


Stephen Hawking


God Created the Integers


Running Press


Copyright 2007 Stephen Hawking


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