The Beginning of Computer Sciences

By Muhamad Zuhdi Farhan bin Suhaimi

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a pioneering English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist. He was extremely influential in the development of theoretical computer science, and created the Turing machine, which can be considered an earliest model of modern computers. Interestingly, computer sciences began due to bloody conflicts in Europe due to the Second World War.

Cryptography or the technique of securing communication and data extensively developed during the World War II. Each nation involved in the war began creating their own code and cipher systems. This consequently led to codebreakers or cryptanalysts being recruited by the governments to help them to win the war.

Germany, for instance, was famous for its Enigma machine, which was first developed by Arthur Scherbius, a German engineer. It had originally been created earlier, to secure communication of commercial companies.  By 1933, German army, navy, and air forces – all of them had their own version of the machine.

Polish Cipher Bureau was the first to be able to reconstruct an Enigma machine and break the German cipher already in 1932. Later in 1939, Britain’s Government Code & Cipher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, became the centre for the effort of breaking the Enigma after the Poles shared the secrets with the Allied Powers. British used the broken codes sparingly to avoid the Germans from realizing their breakthrough. Due to this, the war in Europe was said to be shorten sharply.

Alan Turing was one of the key figures in this remarkable development. He was born in London. At the age of 13, Alan was sent to a boarding school in Dorset. Later, he won scholarship to study at the King’s College, Cambridge and obtained a degree in Mathematics with distinction from that institution. In 1936, he published a paper, which later was recognized as the foundation of computer sciences.

Alan joined the British code-breaking department in 1939 after spending 2 years at Princeton, developing ideas on secret ciphers. Here, Alan developed the Bombe, a machine functioned to decipher the Germans’ Enigma code.

Alan was once engaged to Joan Clarke, a colleague and fellow mathematician at Bletchley Park. He then confessed to her about his homosexual tendencies and, shortly after, their engagement was ended. Alan Turing was persecuted by the British government after his affair with a young man has been surfaced, as homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967. Alan Turing was accordingly chemically castrated.

On June 8, 1954, he was found dead in his house. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. An investigation determined that he had committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.

Alan was granted posthumous royal pardon by the Queen in December 2013. In 2014, the story of Alan Turing was made into a movie, named “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.


In Picture: Enigma Machine