Alan Turing, the father of modern computing who was cruelly prosecuted by the British government for
gross indecency with a male
and subsequently committed suicide while suffering the effects of chemical castration, has been pardoned by Queen Elizabeth under under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, effective today, December 24, 2013.
Scientists, including Stephen Hawking, campaigned for Turing’s pardon. Turing’s life was the subject of a documentary, Codebreaker, which we featured on FDL Movie Night.
Turing–whose work during World War II at Bletchley Park, the National Codes and Cipher Centre, had broken the German’s Naval Enigma code and turned the tide of the war in the Allies favor–was forced to choose between a year in prison or an experimental treatment to “fix” his sexual orientation after police, during the course of burglary investigation, discovered Turing was gay.
Turing’s 1936 paper, “On Computable Numbers,” introduced the world to the idea of computers, and became the cornerstone for our digital world. Fourteen years later he published “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” a cornerstone paper in the field of artificial intelligence. In 1952 Turing was arrested, pleading guilty to the crime of “gross indecency with a male” to minimize the harm to his career.
Rather than go to prison, Turing endured “organo-therapy” hormones which drove him to despair and grief, affected his intellect, and turned his once fit and trim body bloated and fat. After his conviction, he was stripped of his high level security clearance and his top secret government consulting work came to an abrupt end. He committed suicide on June 7th, 1954, just two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday by taking a bite out of a cyanide laden apple. He was 41.
British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said Turing deserved to be:
remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort” and not for his later criminal conviction. His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.
Here is the text of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy: