UK finally pardons computer pioneer Alan Turing for 'crime' of being gay
By Raphael Satter, AP
December 25, 2013, 12:18 am TWN
LONDON--His code breaking prowess helped the Allies outfox the Nazis, his theories laid the foundation for the computer age, and his work on artificial intelligence still informs the debate over whether machines can think.
But Alan Turing was gay, and 1950s Britain punished the mathematician's sexuality with a criminal conviction, intrusive surveillance and hormone treatment meant to extinguish his sex drive.
Now, nearly half a century after the war hero's suicide, Queen Elizabeth II has finally granted Turing a pardon.
“Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,” Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said in a prepared statement released Tuesday. Describing Turing's treatment as unjust, Grayling said the code breaker “deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science.”
The pardon has been a long time coming.
Turing's contributions to science spanned several disciplines, but he's perhaps best remembered as the architect of the effort to crack the Enigma code, the cipher used by Nazi Germany to secure its military communications. Turing's groundbreaking work — combined with the effort of cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park near Oxford and the capture of several Nazi code books — gave the Allies the edge across half the globe, helping them defeat the Italians in the Mediterranean, beat back the Germans in Africa and escape enemy submarines in the Atlantic.
“It could be argued and it has been argued that he shortened the war, and that possibly without him the Allies might not have won the war,” said David Leavitt, the author of a book on Turing's life and work. “That's highly speculative, but I don't think his contribution can be underestimated. It was immense.”
Even before the war, Turing was formulating ideas that would underpin modern computing, ideas which matured into a fascination with artificial intelligence and the notion that machines would someday challenge the minds of man. When the war ended, Turing went to work programming some of the world's first computers, drawing up — among other things — one of the earliest chess games.
This file handout picture released by Sherborne School on June 22, 2012 shows British mathematician Alan Turing at the school in Dorset, southwest England, aged 16 in 1928.