Tuesday, 1 September 2009

.....prejudice without pride

I cannot abide prejudice of any sort and today I took the opportunity to sign a petition that hopefully will do something about it, at least for one man and then belatedly.
I signed for two reasons.

Firstly, the disgusting way Alan Turing was treated by the British ruling classes of the day, shades of Oscar Wilde in Victorian times and secondly, this man did so much to add academic distinction to my alma mater.

So who was Alan Turing?

Alan Turing is most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines.

However, he also made significant contributions to the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and computing.

In 1936 he established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal paper called On Computable Numbers, while in 1950 he devised a test to measure the intelligence of a machine. Today it is known as the Turing Test.

After the war he worked at many institutions including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.

There is a memorial statue of him in Manchester's Sackville Gardens which was unveiled in 2001.

In 1952 Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. Two years later he killed himself.

The petition was the idea of computer scientist John Graham-Cumming.

An apology is being sought for the way the mathematician was treated after his conviction. He has also written to the Queen to ask for Turing to be awarded a posthumous knighthood.

Alan Turing was given experimental chemical castration as a "treatment" and his security privileges were removed, meaning he could not continue work for the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

I doubt that an official apology to Alan Turing is likely, as he has no known surviving family, but I'm sure that the real aim of the petition is symbolic.

The most important thing to me is that people hear about Alan Turing and realise his incredible impact on the modern world, and how terrible the impact of British Government prejudice was on him.


  1. What a dreadful time that was. An era of bigoted, self righteous people who no doubt had things in their lives that they wouldn't want people to know about. In this day and age, people such as George Michael and Hugh Grant go onto chat shows, talk about their escapes and garner great publicity for themselves.

    Having said that I don't believe that it's a great deal different today. There are still those who would agree with the way in which Alan Turing was ostracized. I don't particularly condone what he did in his personal life but it's just that - his personal life and has nothing to do with anyone else. Live and let live and let this man's reputation be restored and honored for what he did in his given field.

    I would sign it too.

  2. It's a heartbreaking story - that he felt he had to end his life. The petition at least sends a message that we can no longer allow such intolerance and that GLBT persons do not have to hide from society.

  3. So sad, which brings up all the ambiguous feelings about our common race - the love / hate relationships of us all. Yet, we are indeed uniquely wonderful when all is said and done. This is just one proof of the many stellar individuals I do so admire. Hugs

  4. Hello Michael,

    I was rather ignorant of Mr Turing's background in all respects. As ever in these cases, his 'crime' seems to be one of getting caught. I'm sure his sexuality would have been known or suspected by many people who didn't share it but who happily chose to accept/ignore it. Society is wonderful at feigning outrage and indignation when the suggestion of 'taint' comes near! Sadly, I don't think much is likely to come of the petition.

  5. There was quite a good British movie about him in 1996 on American public television "Breaking the Code." All men may be created equal... but they certainly are not treated equally.

  6. Prejudice wherever it lurks is at best distasteful - and at worst criminal. I don't think he was the only one to be treated abominably because of homosexuality. Thank goodness times are changing - I have gay friends who live in a mixed community and say that they experience no prejudice. Would that it was the same all over the world.

  7. I was aware of the work that Turing contributed to mathematics and computing. What a brilliant mind, but was completely unaware of his personal tragic tale. Now I wonder why that particiular piece of the story was left out of my education? How devastating to be judged and treated so unfairly and what tragic results from prejudice.

  8. as with Oscar Wilde this is such a horribly sad story. Good on you for signing the petition.

  9. Sad story. Thank goodness the world is coming to its senses. Things are better now, but there is still, unfortunately, quite a bit of bigotry in the U.S.

  10. I do hope yopu saw this.

    Gordon Brown apologises to gay Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing for 'appalling' persecution

    By Ian Drury
    Last updated at 2:53 PM on 11th September 2009

    * Comments (87)
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    Gordon Brown last night issued a posthumous apology to Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing for the 'appalling' way he was punished for being gay.

    The Prime Minister said he was 'deeply sorry' for the inhumane treatment of the Cambridge mathematician - 53 years after his death.

    Thirty thousand people had signed a petition seeking an apology for Mr Turing, who was credited by Winston Churchill with making the biggest single contribution to the Allied victory in World War II.

    Read more: file:///E:/Gordon-Brown-apologises-gay-WW2-code-breaker-Alan-Turing-appalling-persecution.html#ixzz0R6eV8XN9