[ExI] Turing gets an apology

Damien Broderick 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
Cosmos Online

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.

Brilliant mathematician

"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.

Deplorable treatment

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 
important man."

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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