[ExI] Turing gets an apology
thespike at satx.rr.com
Mon Sep 14 22:45:19 UTC 2009
Btw, sorry we killed you:
Alan Turing: British PM apologises
Monday, 14 September 2009
by John Pickrell with AFP
LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a posthumous
apology to World War II code breaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide
after he was tried and convicted of being a homosexual.
Turing, often hailed for his influence in modern computing, was one of
the key figures involved in cracking Nazi German codes.
Brown said Turing, who took his own life in 1954, had been treated
"terribly", adding that the outcome of the conflict could have been
quite different without the code-breaker's efforts.
"Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on
breaking the German Enigma codes," he wrote. "It is no exaggeration to
say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the
Second World War could have been very different."
You may have heard of the 'Turing test', but you may not know much about
Turing himself. The idea behind the test is that we'll know a computer
has achieved true intelligence when a human questioning it is unable to
tell whether they are conversing with a machine or another person.
The idea for the test was just one of Turing's many contributions to the
fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. Perhaps his
greatest contribution, however, was to the war effort.
He worked as a cryptographer at the British government's Bletchley Park
facility during World War II and contributed to cracking the codes of
the German Enigma devices used to encrypt military communications.
Some experts suggest that Turing may personally be responsible for
having hastened the German's defeat by an entire year. That's why the
way he was subsequently treated by the British government is so deplorable.
Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952 after admitting to a
relationship with another man. Following this, he was given chemical
castration and his security privileges were revoked. In 1954 he took his
own life with a poisoned apple.
Several weeks ago, a petition was been launched [sic] in Britain asking
the government to offer a posthumous apology for the way he was
persecuted. The petition, created by computer scientist John
Graham-Cumming, has now collected over 31,000 signatures, including
evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and writer Ian McEwan.
Graham-Cumming told the BBC he didn't expect the government to issue an
apology, but "felt Turing was getting overlooked as being a British
genius and that there was a blind spot in the public eye about an
An official British government apology was not possible because Turing
has no known surviving family, the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph newspaper
reported. However Brown was able to offer an informal apology in that
newspaper. Writing in the paper, Brown said: "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."
"Debt of gratitude"
"The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying,
therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely," he continued. "His
sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison
- was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones.
He took his own life just two years later."
"It was one of the worst individual injustices of our time," wrote one
Daily Telegraph blogger. "This is about humanity acknowledging a
grievous wrong to an entire body of people whose lives and liberties
were diminished by ignorance and prejudice."
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