Happy Birthday Alan Turing

Today is June 23rd, 2011 which makes it the 99th birthday of the man usually called the father of computer science, Alan Turing. The article gives a good overview of his life, which ended up being quite tragic. Turing was a genius who’s research helped win World War II:

His work, however, was advanced enough to get him noticed by the powers that be and, in World War II, Turing became an integral part of the effort at Bletchley Park to break German ciphers and decode military transmissions.

The work carried out by Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park was of critical importance to the war effort. General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated at the time that intelligence received as a result of the codebreaking activities at the Park, “has been of priceless value. It has saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender.”

Most people who were of value in winning that war were held up as heros and presented metals. Unfortunately for Turing he was also a homosexual which was not acceptable back in that era:

An inherently honest man, Turing reported a break-in at his home in 1952 and admitted to police that he had been engaged in a sexual relationship with one of the suspects, Arnold Murray. At the time, same-sex relationships between men were illegal in England and Turing was promptly arrested on charges of ‘gross indecency’.

Found guilty, Turing had his security clearance revoked – preventing him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy work for the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ – and was forced to undergo hormonal castration via oestrogen injections to curb his ‘unnatural’ urges, under threat of imprisonment.

“Hey man, thanks for helping us win the war against the Nazis but your sexual deviance is unacceptable so we’re going to use our monopoly on the initiation of force and subject you to experimental treatments that will most likely kill you.” At least that’s what I image the conversation ended up sounding like.

Although crucial to the war effort and a brilliant man in general being the subject of state aggression takes a toll on most people. After being the victim of state violence Turing was unable to cope with existence anymore and sadly ended his own life:

The strain of being excluded from his beloved work and branded a pervert proved too much for Turing, who was found on the 8th of June 1954 having taken a lethal dose of cyanide to end his own life.

Many soldiers owe their lives to the work this man performed and everybody in this era owes him for computers as we know them. Happy birthday Alan Turing!