Petition Seeks Apology for Alan Turing, WWII Codebreaker

By Allison Bond | September 2, 2009 8:53 am

Alan Turing memorialA petition that seeks a posthumous apology from the British government for its treatment of Alan Turing, a key WWII codebreaker and a father of computer science, has garnished more than 5,500 signatures. Among the signatories are the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and the novelist Ian McEwan.

In 1952, Turing was found guilty of gross indecency after admitting to a sexual relationship with a man (homosexuality was illegal at the time). His sentence? Estrogen injections in an experimental chemical castration treatment, along with the removal of his security clearance, thereby costing him his job for the U.K. Government. Two years later, he ended his life with a poison-laced apple–but not before he had made significant contributions to the world of computer science. In 1936 he established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal paper called On Computable Numbers, while in 1950 he devised a test to measure the intelligence of a machine. Today it is known as the Turing Test [BBC].

Many say that had Turing’s life not ended prematurely, he could have advanced the worlds of computer science and codebreaking even further. “There is no doubt in my mind that if Turing had lived past age 41 his international impact would have been great and that he likely would have received a knighthood while alive” [CNN], wrote computer scientist John Graham-Cumming, who initiated the petition.

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Image: flickr / Wikimedia Commons. A statue of Turing at the University of Manchester.

  • Cory

    Nothing in the universe is more disgusting than man’s capacity to screw his fellow man over.

  • sycologist

    Everyone should sign this petition – Turing gave a lot to his country and deserves an apology. As for homophobia, it’s increasing at an alarming rate in this country as thesist minded people call it a sin.

  • Ted

    Turing’s downfall boils my blood. What a waste! Reminds me of Oscar Wilde, too. I just hope we can learn from it.

  • nparikh

    It’s about time.

  • Brian

    The man was a war hero and invaluable to the Enigma deciphering project.

  • Max

    Shame on you Britain….!

    How would the world be nowadays when Alan Turing did not break these codes…

    He was a great man and should be a postuum Nobelprice winner for peace and his incredible work.

  • Charlotte

    I signed and agree with the petition, but I don’t think an apology or official recognition that the government was very, very wrong in this, should be limited to Alan Turing. Thousands of homosexuals have been affected by legislation like this in the UK and around the world. The US Senate has issued an official apology for slavery, the Australian Prime Minister has apologized for the ‘stolen generations’ of aboriginals, others should follow these examples. I recognise that current governments cannot be held responsible for the actions of their predecessors, but they are in a position to publicly and officially acknowledge the wrong done – and they should do so.

  • D J Wray

    It is a shame how he suffered and it’s also a shame that people like Richard Dawkins use opportunism to bolster their popularity.

    D J Wray
    “Mr. Dawkins, your greatest achievements have been wrapped in something much greater. You have been owned.”


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