07 June 2005

Murdered by the state because he was gay


Despite the higher profile given him recent books and movies on Bletchley Park and the WWII effort to crack the Enigma cipher, Alan Turing remains familiar only to computer scientists and mathematicians.

His work, which led to the breaking of Enigma — considered unbreakable by the Germans — probably saved more lives than the efforts of any other single person in WWII. (This always makes a good answer to those who say that higher mathematics has "no practical application".)

In my field, computer science, he has a good claim to the title of "founder". He proved many of the most basic ideas in computer science, most notably the essential equivalence of all modern computers. Without his work, modern computing would not have the theoretical footing that it does.

He was a great asset to humanity. He was also a homosexual. The British government, to its enduring shame, convicted him of "gross indecency and sexual perversion", and forced estrogen injections on him. Probably as a result, he shortly thereafter ate a cyanide-laced apple and died, 51 years ago today.

Think of him the next time you see a fundamentalist carrying a "kill all fags" sign.