Alan Turing Has Been Voted ‘Most Iconic’ Figure Of The 20th Century

Laura O'Neill Laura O'Neill

Alan Turing Has Been Voted ‘Most Iconic’ Figure Of The 20th Century

He worked at Manchester University and The Alan Turing Memorial, situated in Manchester’s Sackville Park, pays homage to his life.

The celebrated wartime code-breaker and father of modern computing was chosen by viewers of BBC2’s Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century.

Photo: nationalportraitgallery

He invented the computer – and stops you getting spammed

Turing’s mathematical genius allowed him to foresee the possibility and function of computer like machines before the existence of the necessary technology. Laying out the theory for such devices in an essay in 1936, his revolutionary work provided the foundation for modern computers. He later came up with the ‘Turing test’ to determine whether a machine is intelligent – or not. The principles of it are reversed online today when a computer sets you a CAPTCHA test (like distorted letters) to prove you’re a human and not a rogue bot!

His machines helped win a war

At the start of World War Two Turing, along with other mathematicians, was recruited to break enemy codes. Working at Bletchley Park, Turing built a machine called a Bombe. It sped-up code-cracking efforts from weeks to hours by trying multiple permutations. The information gleaned helped the Allies gain an upper hand in the war.

Photo: gaykrant


His legacy has helped change social attitudes in Britain

Turing was a gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Despite his wartime contribution he was arrested for gross indecency in 1952 and given a stark choice between prison and chemical castration (opting for the latter). The arrest also lost him his security clearance and two years later Turing died of cyanide poisoning – whether it was suicide or not is still debated. A campaign to grant him a pardon was started, fittingly, by e-petition in Manchester, which resulted in him being granted one posthumously in 2013. A subsequent legal amendment dubbed Turing’s Law pardoned 65,000 other people convicted of the same ‘crimes’.

Presenter Nick Robinson said of Turing:


“He was a man who worked almost entirely in secret, who received little credit for cracking the Nazi codes and shortening the war and who died having been branded a criminal.

“Today he is the most celebrated figure of the 20th century – a father of computing, war hero and genius.”

Photo: gianncarloduran

Much of much of Turing’s ground-breaking work was conducted at the University of Manchester where he was appointed Reader in the Mathematics Department in 1948. Soon afterwards he became Deputy Director of the Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester and worked on software for one of the earliest true computers – the Manchester Ferranti Mark

A memorial to Turing is situated in Sackville Park, it depicts him sitting on a bench and is situated in a central position in the park. On his left is the University of Manchester and on his right is Canal Street.

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