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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 27 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 52
Queen grants Alan Turing posthumous pardon
Section One
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Queen grants Alan Turing posthumous pardon

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Alan Turing, the British mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code, received a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II on December 23.

Turing committed suicide in June 1954, two years after being convicted of 'gross indecency,' the legal term for having sex with another man. To avoid a prison term, he had agreed to accept chemical castration.

Prime Minister David Cameron declined to pardon Turing in 2012, but after a bill to exonerate him was introduced in Parliament, Cameron asked the Queen to exercise her 'royal prerogative of mercy' and grant him a formal pardon.

In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology, calling Turing's prosecution and conviction 'appalling.' Turing was also honored with a commemorative stamp in 2012.

Britain's Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Turing's pardon on behalf of the government. Grayling explained that Turing had invented an early computer and discovered the algorithms that enabled the British government to unscramble the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code.

Turing 'deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science,' Grayling said.

Cameron also recognized Turing's wartime service in a statement released by his office.

'His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the 'father of modern computing,' ' Cameron said.

In a 1936 research paper, Mr. Turing anticipated a computer that could perform different tasks by altering its software, rather than its hardware.

He also proposed the now famous Turing test, used to determine artificial intelligence. In the test, a person asks questions of both a computer and another human - neither of which they can see - to try to determine which is the computer and which is the fellow human. If the computer can fool the person, according to the Turing test, it is deemed intelligent.

In 1952, Turing, then 39, met a young man, Arnold Murray, outside a movie house in Manchester, invited him to lunch, and then took him home. A few weeks later, Turing's house was burgled, and Murray admitted that one of his friends was the culprit.

When Turing summoned the police, they asked about his relationship with Murray. Turing admitted it was sexual, which led to both men being charged with gross indecency. Gay sex was not decriminalized in Britain till 1967, by which time Turing had already been dead for 13 years.

In addition to being chemically castrated, Turing also lost security clearance as a result of his conviction, and was fired from his government job. He was also denied entry into the United States, where he hoped to settle into an academic career.

Turing died after eating an apple laced with cyanide. Disney's Snow White had been his favorite movie.

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