Until the movie, The Imitation Game was released in 2014, the name ‘Alan Turing’ was not well-known. However, Turing’s work during World War II was critical. So what did Alan Turing do? Let’s learn about that in this article.
What Did Alan Turing do?
Alan Turing was an exceptionally gifted mathematician. In 1912, he was born in London and attended both Cambridge and Princeton colleges. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, he was working part-time for the Code and Cypher School run by the British Government.
Turing began working full-time at Buckinghamshire’s Bletchley Park in 1939, where he worked on top-secret projects deciphering military codes employed by Germany and her allies.
Turing’s work at Bletchley Park was primarily devoted to cracking the ‘Enigma’ code. The Enigma was a type of encrypting machine used by the German military to convey encrypted messages.
Although Polish mathematicians discovered how to decode Enigma communications and shared their discovery with the British, the Germans strengthened Enigma’s security prior to the commencement of the war by modifying the encryption scheme daily. This added to the difficulty of deciphering the code.
Turing was instrumental in this, co-inventing a machine called the Bombe with fellow codebreaker Gordon Welchman. This technology considerably aided in reducing the effort of codebreakers. German Air Force signals were read at Bletchley beginning in mid-1940, and the information gathered aided the war effort.
Turing also worked on decrypting the more sophisticated German naval communications that had eluded many others at Bletchley. German U-boats were wreaking havoc on Allied ships, and it was critical to comprehend their signals.
From 1941, naval Enigma signals could be deciphered using seized Enigma material and Turing’s work inventing a technique dubbed ‘Banburismus.’
Hut 8 Unit
He was the leader of Bletchley’s ‘Hut 8’ unit, which was responsible for cryptanalysis of all German naval signals. This meant that, with the exception of a brief period in 1942 when the code became illegible, Allied convoys could be routed away from U-boat ‘wolf-packs’. Turing’s contribution to Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was critical.
Turing invented a complicated code-breaking technique dubbed ‘Turingery’ in July 1942. This approach influenced subsequent work at Bletchley on deciphering the ‘Lorenz’ encryption machine. Lorenz enciphered vital German strategic signals; Bletchley’s ability to decrypt them aided the Allied war effort significantly.
In December 1942, Turing traveled to the United States to advise US military intelligence on the use of Bombe devices and to impart his understanding of Enigma.
He also witnessed the latest American development on a top-secret speech encrypting technology when he was there. Turing came back to Bletchley in March 1943 and resumed his cryptanalysis work.
Later in the conflict, he invented the ‘Delilah’ voice scrambling technology. Turing received an OBE in 1945 for his wartime efforts.
Universal Turing Machine
Turing designed a hypothetical computer system in 1936, dubbed the ‘universal Turing machine.’ Following the conclusion of the Second World Conflict, he continued his study in this field, expanding on his previous work and applying what he had learned throughout the war.
Turing produced a concept for the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) while working for the NPL which stands for National Physical Laboratory. The ACE was perhaps the predecessor of the modern computer. However, the ACE project was never completed, and he eventually left the NPL.
He was arrested in 1952 for homosexuality, which was illegal in the United Kingdom at the time. He was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ (a conviction that was later reversed in 2013) but avoided jail by agreeing to chemical castration. He was discovered dead in 1954 from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that the death was a suicide.