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Remembering Alan By Alex Wiggan


Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy

Exhibition dates: 21 June 2012 – June 2013

Admission: FREE

Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD

Open daily 10.00 to 18.00, except 24-26 December / 0870 870 4868

June 23rd 2012 is a very important date, as it’s the 100year anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing. Not sure who Alan Turing is? Well although you may not know his name chances are you will have seen his image or will be familiar with his work. If you live in Manchester then you may also have seen a statue of Alan in Sackville Park. It’s the statue depicting a smartly dressed man, sat on a bench with an apple in his hand.

Formerly a student and teacher at Cambridge University, Alan Turing was a mathematician and a computer whiz, whose work during World War II was of vital importance. He worked for the British Government Code and Cypher School and during the Second World War he played a pivotal role in deciphering secret codes encrypted by the German Enigma machine. He also devised many important theories regarding computation and artificial intelligence which are still highly regarded today. Alan Turing was also gay.

In 1952, he was arrested and tried for gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. To put that more simply, Alan was arrested simply for being gay. To avoid being subjected to a lengthy prison sentence Turing agreed to an alternative method for dealing with homosexuality amongst men – oestrogen injections. The injections were designed to neutralise Alan’s libido, acting as a form of chemical castration that would effectively ‘rehabilitate’ him in order for him to see the error of his ways. As a result of his criminal conviction Alan’s security clearance for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was also withdrawn, even though his work during World War II had been instrumental in our victory. Just two years later, on 7th June, 1954, Alan Turing died. The inquest into his death recorded his passing as suicide.          

Now think about that for a second. Just sixty years ago, if you were gay you would be committing a crime. Regardless of your contribution to society, regardless of how considerate you were to your fellow man you would have been breaking the law just for being you. Thankfully in today’s more accepting age this isn’t something that we even consider in the UK, and it hasn’t been since 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised. Sadly this came too late for Alan Turing.

In 2009, encouraged by a very vocal campaign, Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement regarding the UK Government’s treatment of Turing. The statement offered Alan a posthumous apology with the Prime Minister delivering the line, ‘we’re sorry, you deserved so much better’. He really did. However Alan’s work is not forgotten and today many people around the world recognise his contributions to technology, both during and after the War. An annual accolade – known as the Turing Award – is given out by the Association of Computing Machinery to those who contribute to the computing community, whilst many universities continue to teach students about the importance of Alan’s achievements. He may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten.


Alan Turing – The Enigma

By Andrew Hodges

Vintage Books

Turing’s far-sighted plans for the digital era forged ahead into a vision for Artificial Intelligence. The full story behind the persecuted genius of wartime code breaking and the computer revolution.