20 July 2013

Alan Turing to be Given Posthumous Pardon

In 1952 scientist Alan Turing was betrayed by the British government.  The scientist who was instrumental, through his code breaking endeavors, in shortening the Second World War, was arrested for little more than being gay.  Convicted, he was forced to decide between a prison sentence or chemical castration.  He chose the latter but just two years later committed suicide.

Widely respected as one of the fathers, if not the father of modern computing, Turing is finally to be pardoned by the British government.  On Friday it signaled that it will give its support to a bill which would give Turing a pardon in the near future.  Unless amendments are made the bill should have a speedy passage through the House of Commons.

Unfortunately it will not include the other 49,000 men who were convicted and jailed for homosexual activity before it was legalized in the UK in 1967.  Their number includes Oscar Wilde.  However, at least this news means that Turing’s name will finally be cleared.

In order to mark the occasion,  above is a video about Turing’s achievements which was made to celebrate the centenary of Turing's birth last year. Dr James Grime, Enigma Project Officer at Cambridge University's Millennium Mathematics Project explains the code and tells the life story of this remarkable man. It concludes with his death in 1954 – betrayed by the British Government and with only a single escape route – suicide – Turing bit from an apple he had previously laced with cyanide. This tragic end to a brilliant life was thirty years before most of his work would become public; the Official Secrets Act meant his true brilliance was not to be acknowledged until many years after his death.

Today, however, we can lift a glass to this most brilliant of men, celebrate his life and his achievements and perhaps – for a pardon is not an apology - speak softly of our regret for the sins of our fathers.