Father of Modern Crypto, Alan Turing, Voted Greatest Person of the 20th Century

TL;DR: The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently polled its massive audience during their ICONS series, asking which leading figures of the 20th century should be considered most influential. Of the half dozen finalists from a variety of fields, mathematician Alan Turing won, and was posthumously awarded the Greatest Person of the 20th Century. It’s safe to assume without the insights of Turing, cryptocurrency would have never existed.    

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Alan Turing was Greatest Person of the 20th Century

“Across the series ICONS has asked you to assess the achievements of the 20th century’s most important and influential figures from seven different fields of human endeavour,” the BBC recapped. “You’ve picked your greatest Leader, Explorer, Scientist, Entertainer, Activist, Sports Star and Artist or Writer,” and from among those the Greatest Person of the 20th Century was chosen.

Father of Modern Crypto, Alan Turing, Voted Greatest Person of the 20th Century
Turing memorial

Finalists included Pablo Picasso, Nelson Mandela, David Bowie, Ernest Shackleton, Martin Luther King Jr, and Muhammad Ali. Alan Turing, those polled agreed, has had the greatest impact on present day life, and much of that view comes from how ubiquitous computers are around the world.

Turing lived only a short time, dying at 42 years old in 1954. He is arguably best known as the father of modern cryptography, as his work for British Intelligence during World War II helped to decipher and ultimately codebreak the German Enigma machine.

Father of Modern Cryptography

“Turing’s mathematical genius allowed him to foresee the possibility and function of computer like machines before the existence of the necessary technology,” the BBC continued. “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 computers sets you a CAPTCHA test (like distorted letters) to prove you’re a human and not a rogue bot!”

Father of Modern Crypto, Alan Turing, Voted Greatest Person of the 20th Century
Schematics for a Turing Machine

It was, however, at Bletchley Park where Turing would earn his historical place. The story goes, Hitler’s Germany had created an advanced, unbreakable communication device, allowing its military to send and receive messages with impunity. Even if those messages were ultimately intercepted by the British or Americans, they were so cleverly devised no one other than the intended receiver would know its contents. That all changed with Turing. He “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,” the BBC noted.

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