Alan Turing

Posted on October 21, 2010


One of the greatest mathematicians of his day, Alan Turing was instrumental in the cracking of the Nazi’s Enigma code – the secret code used to transmit orders – and allowing the Allies in the Second World War to gain valuable strategic information. He received an OBE for his work.

After the war, Turing was instrumental in the development of computer science; the Turing test, which postulates that a machine is intelligent if a human tester cannot distinguish between a real human and the computer in a conversation, is central to the theories of artificial intelligence (no computer has yet passed the test).

In 1952, Turing took up briefly with a man he’d met, Arnold Murray, who later broke into his apartment with an accomplice. When Turing reported it to the police, it came out that Turing was gay. As homosexuality was illegal in the U.K. at the time, he was forced to choose between a prison sentence or chemical castration. He chose the latter, which consisted of taking estrogen, which naturally took a terrible toll on him.

In 1954, his housekeeper found him dead in his bed, just shy of his 42nd birthday. An inquest found that he’d died of cyanide poisoning and though the half-eaten apple discovered by his bed was never analyzed, it’s assumed that he laced the apple with the poison and then ate the apple.

Numerous memorials, including several statues and at least one stamp, have been made to Turing. On Sept. 10, 2009, the British government made an official apology for its appalling treatment of Turing.

Alan Turing has a page on wikipedia, here, and well as a website maintained by Andrew Hodges, here. A scene cut from the BBC production of Breaking the Code based on Hugh Whitemore’s play about Turing can be found on the queercult Youtube channel, here.