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What Was Alan Turing’s IQ? Was He the Smartest Person Ever?

Have you ever wondered just how smart Alan Turing really was? As one of the most influential computer scientists and codebreakers in history, Turing‘s genius is undisputed. But what exactly was his IQ? And does that number accurately capture the full extent of his brilliance? In this in-depth article, we‘ll explore what Alan Turing‘s estimated IQ was, what made him so intelligent, and how his practical ingenuity went far beyond any single test score. Read on to learn all about the remarkable mind behind the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Determining Alan Turing‘s IQ

First things first – despite his undeniable genius, Alan Turing‘s exact IQ is unknown. That‘s because he never actually took a standardized IQ test during his lifetime. However, historians and psychologists have analyzed Turing‘s profound accomplishments in mathematics, cryptography, computer science and more to arrive at an estimated IQ of 185.

To put that into perspective, that potential 185 IQ would place Turing in the 99.999th percentile of intelligence compared to the overall population. That means he theoretically would have scored higher than 99.999% of people who have ever taken an IQ test.

For comparison, it‘s believed geniuses like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking had IQs between 160-180. So Turing‘s 185 IQ estimate puts him in elite company among history‘s most brilliant scientific minds.

The Basis for Turing‘s Estimated 185 IQ

So how did experts land on the estimated IQ of 185 for Alan Turing? Here are some of the key supporting facts:

  • At age 13, Turing solved advanced calculus problems without being taught calculus.
  • He earned top academic marks in mathematics and science courses at Sherborne School and Cambridge University.
  • He made groundbreaking contributions to mathematical logic and morphogenesis as a young PhD student.
  • Turing published innovative papers on algorithmic computation and "Turing Machines" in his 20s.
  • During WWII, he successfully broke the "unbreakable" Nazi Enigma code at Bletchley Park.
  • He designed the bombe machine to mechanize part of the codebreaking process.
  • After the war, Turing continued advancing computer science through papers on artificial intelligence.

Based on analysis of his jaw-dropping early accomplishments in math, cryptography, and computer theory, experts estimate Alan Turing‘s IQ was around 185. Some even suggest it could have been as high as 200.

The Limitations of IQ Tests

However, while IQ tests can provide a useful benchmark, they have limitations. Many researchers argue IQ tests do not capture the full scope of human intelligence. Creativity, emotional intelligence, curiosity, ethics, and practical ingenuity are also important facets of what we consider "smart."

Turing himself questioned the usefulness of IQ tests, pointing out:

"If a machine is expected to be infallible, it cannot also be intelligent. There are several mathematical theorems which say almost exactly that."

So while Alan Turing‘s estimated 185 IQ confirms his sheer intellectual horsepower, his true genius stems from creative thinking, codebreaking skills, computer science advancements, and wartime heroism that went far beyond academic metrics.

The 5 Key Pillars of Turing‘s Genius

Alan Turing‘s remarkable intellect stemmed from a confluence of innate cognitive gifts, fundamental knowledge, and personality traits that enabled him to achieve greatness. Here are 5 key pillars that comprised his multifaceted genius:

1. Mathematical Brilliance

Alan Mathison Turing demonstrated an uncanny knack for mathematics at an extremely young age. As a teenager at Sherborne School, he was able to solve advanced calculus problems with ease – despite never having formally studied calculus before.

Turing had an instinctive understanding of complex mathematical constructs like algorithms, set theory, logic, and more. His paper "On Computable Numbers" laid vital foundations for theoretical computer science by describing an abstract computing device that could execute algorithms – now known as the "Turing Machine."

2. Codebreaking Prowess

During World War II, Alan Turing‘s genius was instrumental in cracking Nazi Germany‘s "unbreakable" Enigma code. At Bletchley Park, he led efforts to decrypt Enigma-encoded messages and create automated machines to dramatically speed up the process.

Historians widely agree that Turing‘s codebreaking work significantly shortened the war by at least two years, saving millions of lives. The Enigma project perfectly showcased his cryptanalytic abilities, engineering skills, and resolute perseverance.

3. Computer Science Advancements

Both before and after the war, Alan Turing made pioneering strides in early computer science. In 1936, his paper on "Computable Numbers" essentially conceptualized the general purpose computer and universal Turing machine.

After the war, Turing continued breaking new ground in computing. He created the Automatic Computing Engine design in 1945, worked on early speech encryption in the 50s, and published groundwork on artificial intelligence, using this quote:

"We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done."

Turing‘s Computer Science Accomplishments

  • 1936 – Published foundational paper on Turing Machines
  • 1945 – Created blueprint for Automatic Computing Engine, one of the first computer designs
  • 1948 – Wrote program for one of the first chess-playing computers
  • 1950 – Published pioneering paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" on artificial intelligence

4. Interdisciplinary Knowledge

Alan Turing‘s intellectual brilliance went beyond just mathematics and computer science. He had deep knowledge across disciplines like:

  • Cryptography
  • Physics
  • Engineering
  • Philosophy
  • Logic
  • Biology

For example, Turing applied advanced logic to cryptanalysis and proposed innovative biological ideas like morphogenesis. This interdisciplinary scope allowed him to synthesize creative solutions by bridging multiple fields.

5. Boundless Curiosity

All of Turing‘s intellectual gifts were powered by a tireless curiosity to learn how the world works on the deepest levels. Despite societal barriers, he fearlessly followed his passion for knowledge and truth.

Former colleague Jack Good reflected on Turing‘s curiosity, saying:

"His mind was never at rest. He was always thinking up new things…He was always novelty-hunting."

This infectious curiosity led Turing to explore brand newfrontiers in computing, mathematics, cryptology, biology, philosophy, and more over his short 41 year life.

Was Alan Turing the Most Intelligent Person Ever?

Thanks to his estimated IQ of 185, groundbreaking work, and multifaceted mind – Alan Turing is certainly in the running for one of the most intelligent people to have ever lived.

Some historians and scientists believe Turing could be considered the most intelligent person in modern history, surpassing even legendary thinkers like Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Hawking. However, others argue we cannot objectively crown one person as the undisputed "smartest human ever."

There are a few key considerations around Turing‘s legacy:

  • Incomplete picture: Since Turing died so young, we‘ll never know the full extent of discoveries he may have made if given more time.
  • Immeasurable impact: The real-world effect Turing had on history, through codebreaking and computing, is impossible to quantify.
  • Subjective intelligence: As Einstein said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." This applies to human intelligence.

While Alan Turing may not definitively be the single most intelligent person ever, he undoubtedly ranks among the top minds in modern history. His rare convergence of intellectual firepower, scientific creativity, and practical ingenuity distinguish him as a once-in-a-generation genius.

Turing‘s biographer Andrew Hodges summed it up perfectly:

"It is difficult to make any precise statement about Turing‘s place in the history of thought. It is possible that the full perspective is still to come."

His immeasurable accomplishments in mathematics, cryptanalysis, computing, and artificial intelligence earned him a well-deserved spot among history‘s greatest thinkers.