LGBT History Month: Reflections On Alan Turing

Jennifer Hogg our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 2/11/2021 9:54 AM
Alan Turing was a pioneering mathematician and data scientist. His contributions to artificial intelligence and data science undoubtedly shaped the data professions we know today. But his influence doesn’t stop there. Turing is also an admired role model within the LGBT+ community.

Each February in the UK, LGBT history month is celebrated to further encourage education into LGBT+ issues, understand the history of the gay rights movement, and promote an opportunity to drive action in creating a more inclusive society. In observing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, we can continue to build communities that recognise the remarkable contributions of these individuals both in society and within our workplaces.

Although laws during the 1950s made it illegal for Turing to be openly gay, he did not shy away from his sexuality. Instead, he continued to live his life, as an out gay man, both in social circles and his profession. It is his commitment to authenticity and equality that makes Turing’s achievements that much more remarkable to us today.

It is only since his death that his contributions to advancements in data science and his impact on changes to attitudes towards the LGBT+ community have been appreciated though. Turing received a posthumous pardon in 2013, along with thousands of other gay and bisexual men in 2016 under the ‘Alan Turing law’. More recently, Turing has been announced as the face of the new £50 note.

With this in mind, how can we understand Alan Turing’s influence in Data & Analytics today?

Conceiving the Turing machine

In the mid 1930s, Turing devised a mathematical model of computation, which could solve complex calculations. It was this idea of a universal machine, that could decode and action a set of instructions, that became a practical plan for computing.

This became known as the Turing machine, and precedes the digital computer as we know it today. Turing is often noted as the ‘founder of modern computing’, and his published works are documented as the foundation of computer science.

Without this theorised approach to collating and unpacking data, such swift advancements in computing may not have been possible for many more years.

Deciphering the enigma code

Perhaps Turing’s most notable piece of work in the public eye was his role in cracking the enigma code used in German naval communications in World War II. He joined the code-breaking department of the government and quickly became a crucial contributor in successfully decoding German messages.

These codes were often referred to as being unbreakable. The Bombe – designed and created by Turing – was capable of deciphering codes on a scale so significant it has been said to have shortened the war by as many as two to four years.

It is this achievement that sees Turing remembered as a pivotal wartime leader.

Paving the future of artificial intelligence

In the 1950s, Turing published a paper based on this principle of the ‘imitation game’ whereby computers can mirror the outputs of a human. The Turing Test is at the centre of discussions about artificial intelligence (AI). Once more, Turing’s work has been so impactful, it is hailed as being instrumental in shaping our approach to AI today.

Professionals working within AI may still refer to the Turing Test as a way to map the progress made in the field. Turing’s work here was recognised by the opening in 2015 of The Alan Turing Institute, a national centre for research in data science and AI.

Fast-forward to the present and, across a range of industry verticals within Data & Analytics (and beyond), employers have a responsibility to support access and opportunities for LGBT+ professionals. This is not only in contributing to and progressing within an organisation, but also in creating an environment and culture where LGBT+ individuals can be their authentic selves and drive innovation and success. Diverse teams perform better, it’s a fact.

Alan Turing once said, "We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done"; and it’s a powerful reminder of where innovation and pragmatism join hand in hand.

If you're looking to take the next step in your career or build out a diverse Data & Analytics team, we may be able to help. Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more. 

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