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Aug 17 2009

UK residents: sign this petition please!

If you live in the United Kingdom (and I know I’ve picked up a few Brit readers at least!), I have a special request to make of you. Go sign this petition, demanding that the British government apologize for the persecution of Alan Turing that culminated in his apparent suicide.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Alan Turing is commonly known today as the grandfather of the modern computer. He has contributed vast swathes of knowledge to the fields of computing and artificial intelligence, identified the existence of the Fibonacci sequence in plant structures, and he personally cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code leading to numerous Allied victories in World War II. Without this man, we would have never advanced in our technology to the point that we have today.

And yet, he was drummed out of his government positions and stripped of his security clearance because he was gay. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, homosexual acts considered criminal offenses, and chemical castration the common sentence. Turing’s lover broke into his apartment with an accomplice to rob the place, and in filing the police report, Turing made the mistake of admitting to having had sexual relations with the burglar. Turing and the burglar were both convicted of gross indecency, and Turing was chemically castrated amid fears that the KGB was busy trying to gay-bait government officials. He was never charged with espionage, but his security clearance was stripped and as a result his government career ended. Shortly thereafter, he evidently took his own life, eating part of an apple he had apparently laced with cyanide, emulating his favorite childhood story, Snow White.

We’ll never know what brilliance this man might have contributed otherwise, if his life had played out normally and he wasn’t persecuted for being merely atypical. We could already be exploring the stars, for all I know. I hope you will spread the word about this petition to any of your English friends and countrymen; Alan Turing deserves some small token of retribution for having been kicked around so, despite his contributions to humankind.

1 comment

1 ping

  1. 1
    sbh

    You know, I’ve known about Alan Turing’s achievements all my life, but I don’t think I knew anything at all about his life. Or about his death. God, what a way to go.

  1. 2
    Lousy Canuck » UK apologizes to Turing!

    [...] in no small part to a campaign I covered recently, Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, has released an official statement of apology to Alan [...]

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