How the zebra got its stripes, with Alan Turing

ideas.ted.com

Where do a zebra’s stripes, a leopard’s spots and our fingers come from? The key was found years ago — by the man who cracked the Enigma code.

Alan Turing at age 16. Photo via The Turing Digital Archive Alan Turing at age 16. Photo via The Turing Digital Archive.

In 1952 a mathematician published a set of equations that tried to explain the patterns we see in nature, from the dappled stripes adorning the back of a zebra to the whorled leaves on a plant stem, or even the complex tucking and folding that turns a ball of cells into an organism. His name was Alan Turing.

More famous for cracking the wartime Enigma code and his contributions to mathematics, computer science and artificial intelligence, it may come as a surprise that Turing harbored such an interest. In fact, it was an extension of his fascination with the workings of the mind and the underlying nature of life.

Mockup of a bombe machine at Bletchley Park. Image via Sarah Hartwell. Mockup…

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