Blown To Bits

A Wrong Righted

Friday, September 11th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

The undisputed founding father of computer science is Alan Mathison Turing, 1912-1954. He worked as both a mathematician and an engineer, proving the fundamental theorem about computationally unsolvable problems and, during World War II, building early large-scale computing devices, which were used to crack the German Enigma Code.

Turing was a homosexual, and homosexuality was illegal in England at the time. In 1952 he was the subject of a criminal prosecution for homosexuality, and lost his security clearance and endured other humiliations, including hormone treatments to “cure” him. The prosecution effectively ended his career, and he died soon thereafter, of what is generally acknowledged to be a suicide. Alan Turing: The Enigma is an excellent biography.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now issued a formal apology:¬†”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.” (Full text of Brown’s statement here.)


4 Responses to “A Wrong Righted”

  1. Rena Says:

    Likewise, Amen. I’m not going to lie, the apology text makes me a little misty-eyed.

  2. Leo Reyzin Says:

    It’s remarkable that the apology text does not mention any connection between Turing and computer science. Though “computer scientists” are mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement (as some of people who campaigned for the apology), it seems that our field, as a scientific discipline, is not noticed by the broader public.

  3. Bill Gasarch Says:

    Alan Turing BOTH helped his country win WW II and was a brilliant
    mathematician. I would support extending the apology to anyone
    who was persecuted that had just ONE of those attributes.
    Demanding both seems too selective.

    More seriously, apologizing to ONE person for a wrong inflicted
    on many seems odd. I am not quite objection— the real question
    is, what is the apology supposed to accomplish and is bestowing it
    on ONE famous person more effective towards that goal then a blanket
    apology. I don’t know.

    Apologies of this sort usually come after EVERYONE involved in the
    original offense is dead.

  4. boca raton plumber Says:

    Well, he was elected by the voters of Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath. In a parliamentary system, I suppose it’s always wrong to say that the prime minister was elected by anyone other than his own constituency, but the personalities of the parties’ leaders do seem to play more of a role than they did even 15 or 20 years ago.