Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Computational Superhero

It was 1938; German military is making plans to move forward in World War II by generating various encrypted codes that carried messages instructing troops to bombard the soldiers of the enemy countries. German military was highly confident about their upper hand in the war as they believed that their secret codes would bring unforeseen death upon their enemies. But they were insanely wrong, because there was a man who could stop it all.

Many years prior to this, there was a school boy named Alan Mathison Turing who had a natural inclination toward Mathematics and Science. His genius was ignored by his school teachers, but he continued to show remarkable ability in his loved subjects and solved advanced problems without having even studied the basic elementary calculus. At just the age of 16, he explored and savvied Einstein’s works. 

 When this boy turned 26, he joined as a part-time employee in the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS), the British code breaking organization. He worked there concentrating on the cryptanalysis of Enigma, the machine used by German military that produced encrypted messages carrying instructions of destruction during the World War II [WW 2]. Turing developed an electromechanical machine named ‘Bombe’ that helped break Enigma codes very effectively. Thus backfiring the destructive plans of Germany it had saved myriad lives of soldiers in the WW 2. This work of Turing in the branch of cryptanalysis is considered to be a revolutionary contribution to the field of defense. 

Before playing his part in GCCS, he brought up a principle about the definite ‘method’ of every possible process. He postulated that every task can be performed in a structural way operating upon some logical instructions and transitioning from one state to another in a mechanical form if at all the task is computable. He included an argument based on the transitions between 'states of mind' of a human being performing a mental process.

Turing annexed these concepts of logical instructions, the states of process and machine with one another and designed the concept of ‘definite method’ – which in modern language is called an ‘algorithm.’ With this concrete conception he developed a machine called a Turing Machine that can perform any kind of possible computations on the symbols engraved on a tape by following a set of deterministic rules. This turing machine is of infinite memory tape and is used to simulate the logic for any computer algorithm.With this, Turing bridged gap between logical and physical worlds, thought and action.

This concept of Turing machine was later spread to universal synchronicity and was named as Universal Turing Machine. It has become equivalent to the concepts of ‘formula’ and ‘the equation.’ This universal turing machine embodies the fundamental principle of a computer: a single machine can perform any well-defined task by supplying it with an appropriate program.

It is considered that any modern computer is just faster but is not as powerful as a turing machine and can’t perform a computational function which a turing machine couldn’t, kudos to Alan Turing who made it all with his unmatched mathematical and computational skills.

He later moved into the field of computer machinery and intelligence. Turing dealt with a specific problem and proposed an experiment which became known as Turing test. With the ideas he developed himself such as logical instructions for a definite process, universal machine, etc he worked towards putting them into a computer and thus giving it the power of a brain and make it think artificially, like a human being. This was the corner stone of the most important advancement in the field of science and technology; ‘the Artificial Intelligence’ which later on was took up by a huge number of scientists in the modern age that extrapolated its development.
Turing went on to provide a formalization of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" that played a significant role in the creation of modern computers. He was considered to be the father of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.

Thus Alan Turing’s imaginations and inventions had brought a miraculous transformation in the world of computers. If it wasn’t for his unparalleled genius, the modern world which we are now witnessing would have never taken off its runway. The early and fundamental actions of Turing in the field of cryptanalysis are still followed by the defense services across the globe. And the concept of Artificial Intelligence he developed has become the quintessential part of the modern day applications of AI such as in Robotic Sciences.

No question, Alan Turing is a Computational Superhero!

Written by:
Krishna Kanth (an NITian)