Dateline June 23, 1912 - Alan Turing was born on this day. Who dat? Oh, just the man who saved millions of lives and maybe the world during World War Two by cracking the Nazi U Boat codes and building the Enigma machine. Doesn't ring a bell yet? Surely you know him. He's the guy who, in 1936, built the Universal Turing Machine, which used stored programs, making it a direct descendant of whatever device you are reading this on at this exact moment; essentially a modern computer.
Yet, why have so few people heard about Alan Turing? He died young to start with, at 42, by his own hand after (rumor has it) he ate a poisoned apple in 1954.* But here's the real reason we don't know his name: In 1952 Turing was prosecuted as a homosexual, which was a crime at the time. In order to avoid a prison term he agreed to be chemically castrated. However, his security clearances were revoked and he could no longer carry on his work for the government. He committed suicide on my birthday, June 7, 1954. * In 2009 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for Turing's treatment at the hand of the government, which he called "appalling."
Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him ... So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.
To honour the centenary of a very important, but almost forgotten, person, Google produced one of it's most comprehensible doodles ever:
Events are planned all around the world today, and for the next year, which has been dubbed Alan Turing Year. As well, the Science Museum in Kensington opened a year-long exhibit this week called "Codebreaker - Alan Turing's Life and Legacy." The web site states:
Alan Turing is most widely known for his critical involvement in the codebreaking at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. But Alan Turing was not just a codebreaker.It offers a small documentary on Turing's life and work:
This British mathematician was also a philosopher and computing pioneer who grappled with the fundamental problems of life itself. His ideas have helped shape the modern world, including early computer programming and even the seeds of artificial intelligence. This exhibition tells the story of Turing and his most important ideas.
At the heart of the exhibition is the Pilot ACE computer, built to Turing’s ground-breaking design. It is the most significant surviving Turing artefact in existence.
Is there any doubt that had Alan Turing not been labeled homosexual, everyone would know his name today?
* At a conference at Oxford today, Professor Jack Copeland was sheduled to present his theory on why Turing's death might not have been a suicide after all.