Alan Turing: founding computer scientist

A great Briton?
Written by CNET Networks, Contributor on

A great Briton?

Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Tim Berners Lee have all been shortlisted by a nationwide survey, conducted by the BBC, to find the greatest ever Briton. Over 30,000 people took part in the poll, and the overall winner will be chosen by the public in a further vote later this year.

Alan Turing: founding computer scientist
Alan Turing was both an unlikely hero of the Second World War and a vital player in the birth of computing.

Born in 1912, Turing's research into mathematics at Cambridge University led to his famous paper On Computable Numbers, published in 1936. Turing proved that in theory a machine could be constructed to prove that a mathematical theorem was true, and also argued that it would be possible to create a machine, now known as the Universal Turing Machine, that could solve all mathematical problems.

By realising that a machine could be adaptable enough to carry out a range of different tasks when supplied with the appropriate program rather than being constructed to just solve one problem, Turing's vision laid the foundations for modern computing.

During World War Two, Turing - an anti-war protestor in the 1930s - worked at the top-secret Bletchley Park. At Bletchley teams of cryptanalysts tried to crack coded German military and intelligence communications.

The German military coded their messages using Enigma machines, which were thought to be totally unbreakable. Turing designed an electro-mechanical machine called a bombe that speeded up the decryption process, which meant that the Bletchley teams were able to decode many of Germany's military communications.

Winston Churchill once described Bletchley Park as Britain's secret weapon that won the second World War.

Graeme Wearden writes for ZDNet.co.uk

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