The computer at your work, the laptop in your bedroom and the smartphone in your pocket – all of them owe a debt to a very clever gay man who was born 100 years ago today.
Known now as the ‘Codebreaker’, Alan Turing, born June 23, 1912 in London, worked during the Second World War on deciphering German intelligence transmissions. His success helped ensure victory to the allies, and as a genius mathematician and logician, he also played a significant role in the creation of modern computing.
An intense friendship with a male pupil who died of tuberculosis in Turing’s teen years is thought to have been the catalyst for him to devote his life to advancing what science can do to help humanity.
Look at the front page of Google.com today and you’ll be able to play with a clever little Turing-style code machine that spells out Google’s name in binary if you’re able to solve it. To give you a little help, check out the clip below.
Although Turing lived fairly openly as a gay man for much of his life, under archaic ‘Gross Indecency’ laws which had also ruined playwright Oscar Wilde’s life among countless others, he was eventually convicted of crimes relating to his homosexuality in 1952. This resulted in him agreeing to bypass prison by instead undergoing a chemical castration treatment – taking female hormones to blunt his sexual drive. He died two years later of cyanide poisoning, with an inquest determining that he’d taken his own life.
In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology for the way Turing was treated in the years leading up to his death.
The statement concluded: “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 … 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.”
Find out more about Alan Turing’s life and legacy below.