Turing complete apology

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Turing complete apology

Post  jifrock on Sat Sep 12, 2009 6:38 pm

guardian.co.uk - 11/9/09

PM's apology to codebreaker Alan Turing: we were inhumane

Gordon Brown issued an unequivocal apology last night on behalf of the government to Alan Turing, the second world war codebreaker who took his own life 55 years ago after being sentenced to chemical castration for being gay.

Describing Turing's treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair", Brown said the country owed the brilliant mathematician a huge debt. He was proud, he said, to offer an official apology. "We're sorry, you deserved so much better," Brown writes in a statement posted on the No 10 website.

Turing is most famous for his work in helping create the "bombe" that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. He was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting a sexual relationship with a man.

He was given experimental chemical castration as a "treatment". His criminal record meant he was unable to continue his work for the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) because his security privileges were withdrawn. Two years later he killed himself, aged 41.

Thousands have signed a Downing Street petition calling for an official apology, among them the novelist Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins, and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Paying tribute to Turing's contribution to "Britain's fight against the darkness of dictatorship", Brown described him as "a quite brilliant mathematician".

"Without his outstanding contribution, the history of world war two could well have been very different," he writes.

"The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of gross indecency – in effect, tried for being gay.

"His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones."

The petition, which yesterday had 30,805 signatures, was the idea of computer scientist John Graham-Cumming, who has also written to the Queen to request Turing be awarded a posthumous knighthood. Although an official apology is unusual, the act is seen as symbolic.

Acknowledging the strength of feeling, Brown wrote: "Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him.

"Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

"This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue."

"But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind … It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present.

"So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

Though most famous for his codebreaking, Turing also made significant contributions to the emerging field of artificial intelligence and computing, and is often considered to be the father of modern computer science. After the war he worked at many institutions, including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.

In 1999 Time Magazine named him as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.guardian.co.uk 11/9/09
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  Momma Heathen on Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:00 pm

... Damn. Just, damn.
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  jgrow2 on Mon Sep 14, 2009 11:11 pm

The man pretty much saved England if not the whole of Europe and no one lifted a hand to dismiss the charges at the time, or otherwise spare him such humiliation at the time, while he was still with us.

A posthumous knighthood is the least they could do, though it's an empty gesture.
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 17, 2009 4:24 pm

i posted this on a different forum:

i don't know. it seems a little late. maybe better late than never, but...i don't know. if it were me, i'd just want to tell those guys to take their apology, lace it with cyanide, and bite down hard.
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  jifrock on Thu Sep 17, 2009 6:59 pm

From one perspective these apologies are always going to seem hollow. How do you apologise to a dead man.

I think of it more as an apology to the nation in recognition of a great wrong - Apologies like this are an attempt to say things were done poorly in the past, it hasn't got us anywhere, it has only resulted in the loss or marginalisation of many good people. It is a 'lest we forget'.
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  NH Baritone on Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:21 pm

An apology in this context is not intended to make things right. That would be both impossible & demeaning of the injury's severity. However, when the government shows such contrition, it functions as a warning to present & future generations never again to repeat such an unjust travesty.
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Re: Turing complete apology

Post  Jim on Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:25 pm

i get the point, but an apology doesn't seem to be the way to go. even attempting to apologize for something in which you yourself had no part strikes me as bizarre. better to make a statement recognizing that something terrible was done, possibly having a day set aside for someone who played an enormous role in turning the tide of WWII for britain. that would make sense. but an apology just seems in such poor taste at this point.
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