11 September 2009

Turing apology

I've long been a fan of Alan Turing and his work. I was first introduced to Turing's ideas during a philosophy module called 'Knowledge, Mind and Language' whilst at university. We looked at the 'Turing Test', which is a test for detecting artificial intelligence.

Whilst at university, I also developed an interest in logic and crypotgraphy (though I have no skill in either!), and I read a lot about the work of Station X. It's clear to me, from what I've read, that the work of Turing, and his lesser-known colleagues, was instrumental in shortening the war. It also paved the way for the birth of computing as we know it.

I'm pleased that Gordon Brown has offered an official apology for the apalling 'treatment' Turing received:
Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the Second World War could have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.

In 1952, he was convicted of "gross indecency" – in effect, tried for being gay. 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.

I'm pleased about the apology, but it doesn't reduce the sorrow I feel about his plight. It makes me angry that anyone could be treated in this way, and sad that we missed out on his academic brilliance. The only comfort I take is that we don't treat people in this way any more - at least not on an institutional level.

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