The Alan Turing Saga: What is Justice?

In 1952, Alan Turing, the father of computer science, was convicted of homosexual acts and was subsequently chemically castrated. In 1954, Turing took his own life. Esteemed members of the math and science communities are calling for a formal posthumous pardon of the tech pioneer.
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Alan Turing: wartime code breaker, pioneering mathematician, the godfather of our computer age.

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He is also a convicted criminal; same-sex relations were outlawed in Britain until 1967.

After his conviction, he was stripped of his security clearances and forced out of the field he revolutionized by a country he helped save. Turing is the namesake of the famous Turing Test, which tests a device’s ability to model intelligent behavior — A.I. He was a huge boost to the Allied Forces during World War II. His Turing Bombe cracked secret Nazi codes. This analytic machine is the granddaddy of the devices we use today for everything from gaming to social networking.

An untimely demise

In 1952, Alan Turing was given two choices to atone for his crimes: imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose the latter. Turing was subject to hormone injections, with the aim of curbing his libido. After a year of this routine, he became impotent.

Two years after his conviction, Alan Turing ended his life at age 41 by eating a cyanide-laced apple. He loved Snow White.

In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology for the strife Alan Turing faced a half-century ago:

So 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.

A higher standard

For esteemed members of the math and science communities, that does not suffice, and there is no justification for allowing this injustice to stand, no matter how long ago it occurred. This year, the hundredth anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth, many believe a greater step is required. The likes of Stephen Hawking and Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal are calling for a formal pardon — posthumous vindication for the man who laid the foundation for our tech-centric lives. Hawking, Rees, and eight other signatories have endorsed a letter to the Daily Telegraph to re-publicize Alan Turing’s tragic plight. 

Many British government officials claim that Turing was in violation of the law as it stood at the time, he received a proper trial, so the conviction should not be reversed. In his 2009 statement, Gordon Brown added the following:

While Mr Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him.

 Some politicians are joining the call for justice nonetheless. Lord Grade drafted the letter in question:

Here is someone who we are very happy to celebrate and talk about as a genius but who we are not able to forgive for having the ‘wrong’ sexual orientation, as it was seen in the 1960s.

Preserving history?

Some argue that the conviction should stand so future generations can remember the hardships the LGBT community faced all those many years ago and fully appreciate the progress we’ve made. However, justice is equally important. Vindication, even for a dead man, is equally important. We have evolved enough to know that Alan Turing’s treatment was inhumane and wrong on every level. Let’s not mar his stellar legacy with this undue, archaic blemish.

Alan Turing died in obscurity. Has not remained a relative unknown, however. Even though his colleagues ostracized him in 1952, he is fully accepted and paid tribute today. Purveyors of the maths and computer sciences study in facilities named in his honor. A statue was erected at Bletchley Park, where Turing accomplished his greatest works. On his 100th birthday, Google honored his memory with a Doodle on its homepage.There is an urban legend that Apple’s logo is a tribute to Alan Turing, referring to his death. The bitten apple is not connected to Turing, but Steve Jobs remarked, “God, I wish it were.”

If Alan Turing received a posthumous pardon, would it diminish the impact of these tributes? Would it diminish his place as an icon? Would that be an injustice in itself? Is there any point in apologizing for history?

Source: Huffington Post

Source: BBC

Source: The Telegraph

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Imayen Etim
Imayen Etim is a freelance writer and GameSkinny contributor based in Gainesville, Florida. She can be contacted at imayen.e [at]