Thursday

Zen 1058: Join the petition to pardon Turing, the man who saved Britain, invented the computer and described artificial intelligence

Alan Turing was beyond brilliant. In 1936 he wrote a paper called 'On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem' which described a simple machine that could do any calculation as long as it could be represented algorithmically. This is the theoretical basis of the computer and represents such an astonishing and utterly original idea that this alone would place him in the pantheon alongside the likes of Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

During the Second World War, he worked as a cryptanalyst in charge of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park. The machine he created to work out Enigma cyphers - the 'Bombe' - arguably shortened the war and prevented Nazi Germany from choking off the convoys between Blighty and the United States. Not only that, but the basic components of the Bombe are still essentially the basic components of any modern computer. It's the forerunner of the whole shebang. He did a bunch of other stuff as well, but for the full skinny on him, you're better off going here: Wikipedia: Alan Turing.

The reason you may not have heard of him is, bluntly, because he liked boys. This was still illegal back in the early Fifties, so when Turing reported one of his lovers to the police for burglary, the police charged him with gross indecency. Rather than go to prison, Turing agreed to 'chemical castration' - treatment with female hormones designed to kill off his 'dodgy' urges. It might seem a backward and stupid thing to do to such a fine servant of his nation, and you're right. It was. Monstrously stupid. But also monstrously tragic, in that Turing ended up killing himself with cyanide in 1954.

In 2009, Britain's answer to Dick Nixon, Gordon Brown, actually did something right as prime minister and apologised for Turing's "appalling" treatment. But it would go a small way to correcting a terrible wrong if he were actually pardoned, hence the epetition currently under way. To add your name, click on the link below.

e-petition: Grant a pardon to Alan Turing [LINK]

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