Hacking History: Alan Turing

Hacking History: Alan Turing

Alan Turing

Alan Turing, sometimes known as the “Father of the Computer” (though I’d be more inclined to call him Grandfather of the Computer) and now widely known as the main character in “The Imitation Game”, is one of the most noted hackers of WWII as well as widely known for his other innovations and theories. Today, we even give the Turing Award to the greatest experts in the computer science field and still hold artificial intelligence to the standard of the Turing Test. He also had a tragic demise at the age of 41, and many speculate that he would have continued to innovate and push human progress at an even more rapid pace.

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Alan Turing and World War II

Turing’s first big break-through happened at Bletchley Park, during World War II. The Polish enigma codes had been passed off to Bletchley, just before Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rózyki disposed of all of their original research and code. With 10,000 service-people (a diverse group of both women and men) at Blechley, Alan Turing created the bombe that would crack the Nazi enigma war code, alongside John Jeffreys and Peter Twinn, under the direction of Dilly Knox. Enigma code was deciphered and converted into intelligence reports for the British to better understand what they Nazis were planning next (many of these reports were also relayed to allies such as the CIA).

Turing also headed the Hut 8 team, responsible for deciphering Nazi naval code. His team did cryptanalysis of all German naval signals. He is credited as having been a huge contributing factor to the end of WWII.

Techniques and Theories

Also during WWII, Turing came up with Turingery, a code-breaking technique for tapping a Nazi cipher attachment called a Tunny Machine. Also, after visiting America to assist them in their war-time code-cracking, Turing took knowledge of speech enciphering and created the Delilah, a speech scrambling device. On top of all of these accomplishments, Turing also conceptualized the first home computer in his paper “On Computable Numbers”. The Universal Turing Machine is a “mathematical tool equivalent to a digital computer” and is still the “most widely used model of computation in computability and complexity theory.” Finally, in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” Turing outlined his concept of artificial intelligence and what he called the Imitation Game, but is now widely known as the Turing Test. The Turing Test is essentially: if a tester is not able to consistently determine whether an answer given was produced by a person or computer, the computer passes the test. We still largely, philosophically, hold artificial intelligence to this standard today.

His Legacy

Although, according to Winston Churchill, Alan Turing “Made the single biggest contribution to allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.” Alan Turing was found guilty of “gross indecency” and sentenced to forced castration. After the procedure, Turing became increasingly depressed and eventually committed suicide at the age of 41. A tragic demise to a figure who gave us so much foundation upon which our progress has lied upon. It’s impossible to say what innovations Turing may have still had in him, but the legacy he did leave behind will continue to carry us further into the future.

To learn about the Polish mathematicians who did the leg-work for cracking the Enigma Machine, check out our blog!

Enigma Machine

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