The work for which Turing is probably best known to the public, however, is his central role in cracking German military codes during World War II.
Turing's earlier research stood him in good stead at the ultra-secret Government Code and Cipher School, located at Bletchley Park. Along with contributing enormously to the war effort by providing detailed intelligence on German communications, his work at GCCS presaged the development of the rudimentary computers he would design after hostilities ended.
While he had already created a digital multiplier during a spell at Princeton University before the war, the design of the Automated Computing Engine, or ACE (pictured below), was to have far greater effects on the development of the computer -- providing a basis for a whole generation of devices, including the Bendix G-15.
"The very first machine that I ever got to really program was called a Bendix G-15 computer," recalls Cerf.
Turing went on to make many other important advances in several fields. The well-known Turing Test -- which holds, broadly, that a machine which is indistinguishable from a human in normal conversation can be said to have achieved artificial intelligence -- is his work, as is a well-known hypothesis on pattern formation in biology.
His contributions, however, were cut short by his untimely death. Turing had been persecuted for his homosexuality by the British government, and agreed to undergo chemical castration rather than face jail on a charge of indecency in 1952. He was found dead, the victim of apparently self-inflicted cyanide poisoning, on June 8, 1954.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently issued an official apology to Turing in 2009.
Nevertheless, Turing's memory is the driving force behind a landmark celebration in the scientific and computing communities. While a Turing Award -- "the Nobel Prize in computing," according to Vardi -- has been handed out every year since 1966 by the ACM, this year's presentation, on June 16, will be different (See "Judea Pearl, a big brain behind AI, wins 2011 Turing Award").
The group, Vardi says, is trying to bring all living Turing Award winners together in celebration of Alan Turing's life and work. The event will be held June 15-16 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
He predicts that the group will have about 32 Turing Award winners on hand, which he described as "an amazing opportunity." In order to ensure that attendees have a chance to hear from all of the award winners, several panel discussions featuring multiple prize winners will be held.