Alan Turing Revisited

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Alan Turing Memorial 1912-1954, Sackville Gardens, Manchester: sculptor Glyn Hughes

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Over at Travel Words, Jude’s October Bench series calls for shots of benches with someone or something on them. This reminded me that I hadn’t posted these photographs of the Alan Turing Memorial, taken on a bright and early April morning in Manchester. I like the way someone has placed a cherry blossom behind his ear – symbolic perhaps, but affectionate too. I feel that if he had been alive now, living in world that is rather more enlightened about sexual mores, he would have enjoyed the gesture.

I have written a little about Turing’s life in an earlier post – An Intricate Mind. His is a mind we could have well done without losing before it had reached the natural conclusion of its great thought processes. And since no opportunity should be lost to counter any lurking bigotry, I’m repeating here what I said in that post:

 

Here is the statue of man whose decoding of German Enigma Code is credited with shortening World War 2 by two years, and so saving thousands of lives. After the war, working in Manchester, he played a key role in developing ‘Baby’, the first digital computer. He had the brilliance of intellect and foresight that should have been considered a national treasure. Yet in 1952 he was charged with engaging in homosexual acts, tried and convicted of gross indecency. The penalty was prison or chemical castration through the administration of oestrogen. He chose the latter. But because homosexuals were considered security risks, he forfeited his security clearance. In 1954 he was found dead. At the inquest the coroner concluded he had committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide. He was forty two.

There have various theories about his death: that he staged it to look like an accident; that it was in fact an accident; that he was assassinated. In any event we can only guess at the scale of his future contributions to the domains of science, mathematics, and computer technology had he lived. In 1950, concluding his article in the journal Mind, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, he himself said:

 We can see only a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

In 2013 Turing was granted a royal pardon, and British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, expressed his regret at the way the eminent mathematician had been treated. Today, Turing’s great-niece, Rachel Barnes is lending her support to the campaign Turing’s Law that wishes to see 49,000 others given posthumous pardons. She says that while the Turing family was delighted by Alan Turning’s pardon, they felt it unfair that it was not extended to others similarly convicted.

Turing relative demands pardons for gay men convicted under outdated laws

And all I can say is: see where bigotry takes us. And if you want to see what kind of funny, humane man Alan Turing was, and discover something of his intricate thinking, then read the article Computing Machinery and Intelligence at the link above. It begins with the words:

 I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

37 thoughts on “Alan Turing Revisited

    1. according to Wkipedia: ” a symbol classically used to represent forbidden love, as well as being the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the object that inspired Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation, and the means of Turing’s own death.”

    2. He was a great eater of apples and one was found partly eaten at his death. He himself had died from cyanide poisoning. Some thought the dose had been administered in the apple, but it was never tested. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories. He may indeed have committed suicide, but it might also have been an accident. He was apparently carrying out some experiment in his home which might have been a possible source for the poison.

  1. Great bench, great sculpture and another of your great thought-provoking posts. I must confess that I did not know this about Turing. What a shocking tragedy, and yes what a loss to the world.

  2. Thank you for the photographs and for your original post. I am a great admirer of Alan Turing and so was delighted to find that he had lived in Hampton for two years – just down the road from where I live. I think he would have loved the cherry blossom gesture. Thank you. Janet:)

  3. It says so much about the bigotry and blatant ignorance that is still rampant over such issues that we have to be subject to people like Kim Davies and her ilk.
    Life is so very,very brief, so precarious, and so precious that to actively deny any individual to their life – and this is what it is, denial – is criminal, or should be regarded as such.

  4. What a sad story, Tish. That’s what narrow minded societies/communities can do – deny opportunity. Even today on a variety of issues.

      1. I thought it was a very interesting film, but the critics say “the film was criticised for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and Turing’s character and relationships.” not knowing his history at the time I didn’t notice this…

    1. Indeed, there was prejudice about everything back then. I’ve just remembered how unmarried pregnant girls were treated, sent to ‘homes’ with almost punitive connotations until they delivered, and then had their babies ‘confiscated’ for adoption. In some ways we have moved on. Other areas could still use a bit of work.

  5. Here is the statue of man whose decoding of German Enigma Code is credited with shortening World War 2 by two years, and so saving thousands of lives. = of course he became famous in my country too!

  6. He sounds like someone I would’ve very much liked to meet. And what a sweet touch that flower adds. Now I want to see the movie about him, played by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch. Thanks for the link, too, Tish.

    1. Absolutely. His nephew was on Radio 4 last week (he’s written a book though had never met his uncle). He was trying to indicate how eccentric his Alan Turing was by saying that during the war he used to bicycle around the place wearing his gas mask – because he had decided it should stop him from getting hayfever. Sounds quite sensible to me 🙂

  7. This is a lovely take on the challenge, Tish. I loved the film about Alan Turing. (And I feel so proud on behalf of the Norwegian producers, but don;t tell anyone!)

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