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23 December 2013

at long last, a pardon for England's war hero and computer genius Alan Turing

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The Associated Press
(USA newswire)
Monday 23 December 2013

U.K. finally pardons
computer pioneer 

Alan Turing

by Raphael Satter, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- 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 cypher 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 programing some of the world's first computers, drawing up — among other things — one of the earliest chess games.

Turing made no secret of his sexuality, and being gay could easily lead to prosecution in post-war Britain. In 1952, Turing was convicted of "gross indecency" over his relationship with another man, and he was stripped of his security clearance, subjected to monitoring by British authorities, and forced to take estrogen to neutralize his sex drive — a process described by some as chemical castration.

S. Barry Cooper, a University of Leeds mathematician who has written about Turing's work, said future generations would struggle to understand the code breaker's treatment.

"You take one of your greatest scientists, and you invade his body with hormones," he said in a telephone interview. "It was a national failure."

Depressed and angry, Turing committed suicide in 1954.

Turing's legacy was long obscured by secrecy -- "Even his mother wasn't allowed to know what he'd done," Cooper said. But as his contribution to the war effort was gradually declassified, and personal computers began to deliver on Turing's promise of "universal machines," the injustice of his conviction became ever more glaring. Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology for Turing's treatment in 2009, but campaigners kept pressing for a formal pardon.

One of them, British lawmaker Iain Stewart, told The Associated Press he was delighted with the news that one had finally been granted.

"He helped preserve our liberty," Stewart said in a telephone interview. "We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country -- and indeed the free world --  that his name should be cleared."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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PatFromCH said...

About bloody time. At least it didn’t take ‘em as long as it took the bloody flaming catholic church to grant Gallileo and Giordano Bruno a pardon....

Vleeptron Dude said...

Turing's favorite movie had been Disney's "Snow White," and he bit into an apple he'd laced with gardening cyanide.

The UK criminal law against homosexuality was just upheld in post-colonial India by India's highest court. They said only parliament could repeal it. The UK itself repealed the notorious 19th century "blackmailer's charter."

In Uganda, a life prison sentence awaits repeat offenders of Uganda's anti-homosexuality law. Uganda's laws were pushed by evangelical fundie religionists from the USA.

PatFromCH said...

Pop culture has it that he was forced to bite into that apple, he also had recieved hormone treatment. Pop culture also has it that the Apple logo is based on that myth.

I don’t give a toss about someone’s sexuality. If you’re allright, you’re allright and if you are a bastard then you are a bastard.

But it is indeed irritating for the freedom of choice and personal individuality, expression and speech for ALL of us what is happening not just in Uganda but also France and most prominently Russia at the moment. And I fear it will get worse....

btw if you are interested I hear Stephen Fry has made a program for the BBC about that subject.

Vleeptron Dude said...

oh yeah, Russia, the elephant in the bathtub ... last week Putin muttered that his vision of Russia was as a bastion of old-fashioned morals and virtues.

No USA high-level government figures will go to the Sochi winter Olympics, but 3 famous USA sport figures in the USA delegation are open and out gays and lesbians.

Putin seems quickly to have realized that his new anti-gay laws have threatened the success and prestige of his Olympics, and has promised that the new anti-gay Russia will not cast a shadow over Sochi. I guess it's hard to say "everybody's welcome" in Russian, the phrase is so rarely heard in a very long history.

Vleeptron Dude said...

The "chemical castration" that was the legal "remedy" for a conviction of male homosexuality caused Turing to grow breasts and a range of torments. The poison apple seems to have been his chosen way to end his torment.

A unique look at England during the worst of "the blackmailer's charter" is Quentin Crisp's autobiography "The Naked Civil Seervant," later filmed starring John Hurt as Crisp. "Prick Up Your Ears" (a pun of "prick up your arse") is a bio movie of the brilliant comic dramatist Joe Orton who flourished in the final years of criminalized homosexuality in England.

The USA's record, social and legal, in gay rights has not been much prettier or more noble. This week a federal court decision allowed same-sex marriage licenses to be issued in Utah, and lines formed around the block to apply.

Even in Uganda and Russia and Utah and England, history moves, however slowly, in one direction.

PatFromCH said...

Switzerland’s sports minister has called such a boycott complete nonsense but then again he is a right-wing twat and whatsname bastard of an idiot scumball who also claims that the question of human rights in China is irrelevant to him as long as CH gets a good trade agreement with them......

But as I have said before this concerns all of us. What if someone suddenly is giving you a hard time not just for your sexual orientation, but your haircut, political views, reading habits, musical taste etc. ? Sometimes history moves, as you have pointed out, in one direction only....

oh, I found the Stephen Fry docu on teh utub: