It Is 2013, And The Queen Just Pardoned Alan Turing

from the good-day,-sad-day dept

Alan Turing is a name you’re required to know if you have any interest in computers, cryptology or artificial intelligence. The famed “Turing Test” is still used as one way to test functionality of artificial intelligence, he’s considered the father of modern day computing, and his work in decrypting the Nazi’s Enigma code quite possibly shortened the war by a factor of years, saving who knows how many lives from an even further prolonged conflict. The word hero gets tossed around a lot these days, too often utilized to describe athletes and entertainers when it should probably be reserved for people like Turing. He was an amazing person, smart as hell, and dedicated to a craft that unarguably moved humanity forward and simultaneously saved lives.

And, in 1952, he was convicted of being a homosexual and sentenced to chemical castration by hormone injection, leading to his suicide a few years later. That was 1954. And, though it sadly took sixty years, the Queen has officially pardoned Turing for his non-crime.

Announcing the pardon, Grayling said: “Dr. Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind. His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the second world war, where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.

“His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed. Dr. Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”

It is undoubtedly a good thing that Turing has been pardoned, though the need for such a pardon should never have arisen. For a government to have chemically castrated one of their very best was a crime for which I issue no pardon of my own. And that’s important, because the very same queen that was queening over the UK when Turing was convicted, sentenced, and killed himself was the same queen that queeningly issued this pardon. And, amazingly, it took Elizabeth the Second four years to do so after the UK government’s Gordon Brown issued an “unequivocal apology” to Turing and his family. There is a very firm lesson here for all of us in how we treat one another, even those who are different from us.

Writer David Leavitt, professor of English at Florida University and author of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (2006), said it was “great news”. The conviction had had “a profound and devastating” effect on Turing, Leavitt said, as the mathematician felt he was being “followed and hounded” by the police “because he was considered a security risk”.

“There was this paranoid idea in 1950s England of the homosexual traitor, that he would be seduced by a Russian agent and go over to the other side,” Leavitt said. “It was such a misjudgment of Alan Turing because he was so honest, and was so patriotic.”

More importantly, it was a misjudgment of Alan Turing as a human being. To use our fear and dislike of those that are different from us to completely negate the possible benefits our fellow human Alan Turing could have brought us had he not been so abused shows the very worst in all of us. So, while it may feel warm and fuzzy that Turing has been officially pardoned, I’d suggest we all keep our eye on the ball this holiday season and make an effort to judge each other not on old and antiquated biases, but on our character and actions. Had humanity done so, who knows where Alan Turing could have brought us? And I would hope that any fear some of us might have of those that are different from us would be outweighed by the fear of losing the contributions of those very same people.

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Comments on “It Is 2013, And The Queen Just Pardoned Alan Turing”

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Violated (profile) says:

Re: After all these years.

Indeed but we have come a long way since homosexuality was classed a sinful perversion that required a medical correction.

Even Oscar Wilde once fled the persecution of the UK for the more tolerant atmosphere of Europe.

I also well recall that homosexuality only became lawful during my lifetime. So I would say be thankful the persecution has ended and that they are taking small steps to absolve this mess.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Exactly.. great that Turing was pardoned (and he was not the main person at Bletchley Park anyway but instead a part of a HUGE team of brilliant people)

Though what about every single other person who was charged and then convicted of the same offense in all parts of the Commonwealth at the time this charge was on the books? When will they be pardoned by the parliament let alone by the Queen?

Anonymous Coward says:

the past is the past

Nothing can be done to right the wrongs of the past … this is true whether it be the outlawing of homosexuality or the legal practice of slavery. The best we can hope for is that we acknowledge that an injustice was done, and do what we can to put things right.

The best anyone can do is the best they can do … all that can be done for Turing has been done… what more do you want ?

Tim makes the valid point that we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and not repeat them. That goes for all of us, not just for the people that made those mistakes.

MondoGordo (profile) says:

Re: time for the tautology

Turing was a special case because Turing was a special case!

He was demonstrably the epitome of everything that his peers strove to be, except in this one area of his life, that at that point in history was illegal. As a result some people feel that the wasting of his life has more importance than that of any of the other victims of that unjust law.

Today homosexuality is more acceptable in his homeland than it is in most of the rest of the world.

Blanket nullification of convictions under a repealed law is a nice idea … but whose going to pay for all the paperwork ?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unsung Heroes

Actually Turing was a part of the team at Bletchley Park and NOT the main person (No one really was – like most war efforts it was TEAMWORK), in fact if you really want to know who allowed the decryption of the Enigma’s etc you need to look at the original Polish mathematicians which came over to England in first place that allowed Bletchley Park to even exist.

Violated (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As to the others then let us recall that many of those are still alive where they could make quite a fuss or even sue if pardoned.

So the Government for now sticks to the “You were fairly convicted of a crime existing at the time” line but sure in later decades once all these people are safely dead they will wave their hand in a mass pardon.

All misdeeds are then undone and history will smile on our modern political wankers.

jameshogg says:

I posted this about Alan Turing and the pardon issue a couple of months ago on Reddit:

“This man will never get enough recognition. To the extent that he should be pardoned I am uneasy. It always seems like the STATE is the one wanting to be pardoned above everyone else, to be honest. I would probably prefer it if the state was forever blotted with its shame for how Turning was treated. Besides, civil disobedience necessarily means breaking the law – often an unjust one – in the name of a brave and radical cause that can mean even prison, and it would be rather undermining of Turning’s defiance against this barbaric law to pardon him and sweep the impact of his struggle under the carpet. Just because you have broken a law does not mean you have committed an immoral act. Sometimes, it means you have committed a great noble calling. And to do anything to make light of it would not be thinkable.”

No, the Queen does not deserve points for this.

And no. There is no need for the U.K. state to do everything it can to glorify Alan Turning in this moment of all times when the GCHQ desperately needs to praise a code-breaker.

The GCHQ doesn’t even break codes. It and the NSA changes the codes in its favour. And Al Qaeda will have the last laugh as it uses the real codes with no backdoors for evil purposes. While the rest of us get pointlessly spied on.

Anonymous Coward says:

the sad thing is that the way it was then condemned a man for being gay. like so many other things, attitudes change and it is fitting that this man is now remembered for what he did in saving countless lives.

i wont be here to see it, but i wonder how long it will be before the change of attitude happens that removes the ‘i must keep control of my movies’ from the entertainment industries and they realise that giving up that control will actually do them so much more good?

hindsight is a wonderful thing. what a shame no one is able to make use of it at the right time!!

Anonymous Coward says:

The Queen is ill advised by her crew.

Test this pardon by substituting Turing for a slave hanged in 18 century Jamaica for violating law, say, by not producing enough of sugar cane quota.

It implies that Turing was a criminal after all, but we go easy on him. Whereas, it should be the law deemed illegal.
But that is technically problematic to proceed.

Fentex says:

I don’t approve of a pardon for a pardon requires a crime to be pardoned from.

Some kind of absolution for having never committed a crime would be appropriate, and applied to all people committed of the same crime – for if the issue is that the law was wrong then it isn’t about one person, is it?

But authority won’t do such things for it fears it reinforces the publics right to question bad law, and that disturbs authority.

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