Alan Turing is a very important man. I discovered his importance last summer while taking an online class about the history of the internet through Coursera. If it weren’t for Mr Turing, I wouldn’t be sitting here sharing this with you, because the foundation for the internet would never have been laid.
Alan Mathison Turing was born 23 June 1912 in Maida Vale, London to Julius and Ethel Turing. He had one older brother, John. Alan grew up in Hastings with his brother, while his parents moved back and forth between England and India where his father served in the Civil Service of India. At a very young age, Alan displayed an above-average aptitude for maths and science for which he would later be known. By age 16, Turing discovered Einstein. Not only did he grasp Einstein’s work, but he extrapolated on Einstein’s questioning of Newton’s laws of motion.
Alan went on to accomplish great things at university and developed the Universal Turing machine which is the basis for the modern computer. It wasn’t until World War II that Turing really made a name for himself, albeit mostly among his peers. During World War II, Alan Turing was leading the team which broke the German ciphers which allowed the Allied Forces to learn of Germany’s and Hitler’s plans.
At the outbreak of World War II, Turing was working part-time with the Government Code and Cypher School and from the start worked on cracking the Enigma, Germany’s code making machine. Because his approach was so generalized, it didn’t matter when Germany changed methods for encoding their plans.
Post war, Turing lived in London and worked on the design for the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) at the National Physical Laboratory. He presented a paper on 19 February 1946, which was the first detailed design of a stored-program computer.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I’m writing about Alan Turing on a Lesbian blog. Sure, he is considered the Father of Modern Computing (as far as I’m concerned), but why write about him here? I’m writing about Mr Turing because on December 24, 2013 – 61 years after Mr Turing’s death – he received a Royal pardon from Queen Elizabeth II. You see, Alan Turing lived in a most unfortunate period of history where homosexuality was considered indecent and if discovered, one could be criminally charged. Alan’s homosexuality was discovered through the investigation of a burglary into his home and both he and his 19 year old lover were convicted of the crime of homosexuality. At the time, there were two options for those found guilty: imprisonment or probation. The probation was on the condition that he undergo hormonal treatments for a year. Turing chose the probation and hormone treatments and in 1954, committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.
In 2009 a petition was begun to convince the British Government to apologize to Turing for prosecuting him for being homosexual, but it wasn’t until 4 years later that he received a full Royal pardon from the Queen.
If you know of anyone who made an impact on history/society, yet was treated as a criminal for his/her homosexuality, please comment on this story and I will give them the honour they deserve.