The Turing apology

I’ve been away from my computer for most of the day, but what I have found is this story: there are an increasing number of people supporting a petition to make the Prime Minister to apogolise for the treatment of Alan Turing. Turing was convicted of homosexuality and as punishment, he was chemically castrated and given a cocktail of hormones in an attempt to eliminate his homosexuality.

I have often said to philosopher friends, that if anyone was to ask “what success does philosophy have?”, their response should be: the computer. Alan Turing was one of the finest minds of the 20th Century. I’ve argued at various points about how certain innovations often are based on the combination of results in other theories and projects. Turing is attributed to the invention of the modern computer.

Turing’s work developed in some parts as a response and reformulation of results by Godel regarding his research on proof theory and notions of computability. Turing’s notion of the computing machine has been compared to the work by Alonzo Church, with whom he had later worked with. The birth of the computer is an offshoot of the underlying work that had taken place over the three decades prior in logic.

Turing has many admirers, beyond philosophers and logicians. Many projects that are undertaken owe very much to the innovations following Turing’s work: computer science,  cryptography, and as many variants as one may imagine, from quantum cryptography to medical physics. One ‘turing test’ is the captcha test on all websites that ask for verification that you are a human being and not a spambot.

The resonance of this apology is this: despite the innovation of Turing, he was still treated in an unfortunate and inhumane way. As a gesture in deference to the spectacular individual that Turing was, and, as a gesture towards tolerance of homosexuality today, please consider the petition.




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