Computer Pioneer Alan Turing Granted Posthumous Pardon
The Queen of England has granted a posthumous pardon to mathematical genius and computer pioneer Alan Turing. Turing was convicted of “gross indecency,” i.e. homosexuality, in 1952, and committed suicide in 1954.
Turing’s work as a codebreaker during World War II helped crack messages sent with the Nazi’s Enigma machine, greatly affecting the course of the war.
Turing also laid much of the groundwork for modern computing, proposing the algorithm-based “Turing machine.” After the war, he worked on artificial intelligence, claiming that a computer could be said to be “intelligent” if a person interacting with it could not distinguish it from a human. This important milestone has become known as “the Turing test.”
His conviction resulted in the revocation of his security clearance, and ended his work for the government. Turing also submitted to chemical castration to avoid a custodial sentence.
An autopsy determined that Turing died of cyanide poisoning. Some family, friends, and subsequent supporters have claimed he died accidentally from sloppily stored chemicals nearby.
An online petition in 2009 drew thousands of signatures and an apology from then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling praised the move, saying “a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.”
Supporters are generally equally excited, but some note that thousands of other convictions for homosexuality are still on the books, and those convictions are no less unjust simply because the convicted are not famous.
“This is one small step on the way to making some real positive change happen to all the people that were convicted,” said Dr. Sue Black, a computer scientist and a major force in the Turing campaign. “It’s a disgrace that so many people were treated so disrespectfully.”
Glyn Hughes, a sculptor who constructed a Turing memorial, pointed out that some of those convicted are still alive, and could seek settlements from the government if wrongdoing were admitted.