Alan Turing

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely
free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

Now you’re probably wondering how a mathematician and a philosopher are linked. Apart from being born within a year of one another and the fact that Camus married a mathematician, the ties are pretty much non-existent. But somehow, the ideas that Camus put forth, Turing put into action. He embodied this specific kind of intellectual rebellion, struggling to free himself from social constraints and Europe from the clutches of the Nazi regime.

To those of you who don’t know Alan Turing (1912-1954), I recommend Googling him or at the very least, going to the nearest cinema and purchasing a ticket for the Imitation Game. To all the history geeks out there, I’m fully aware that movies are distorted versions of the truth. I’ve seen Kingdom of Heaven, believe me I know. But the irrefutable truth remains, this man was a hero in more ways than one and deserved a feature film made in his name. He rebelled against the limitations of mathematics and produced a paper that hinted at the first ever computer, used to solve complex mathematical problems.

Born in 1912, Turing developed an aptitude for maths and science early. In 1936, he delivered a paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (say that word, I dare you)” where he proposed the idea for the universal machine, capable of solving any computable problem. The central concept of the modern computer was founded in this paper.

Beyond this, Turing pursed studies in mathematics and cryptology at Princeton University, New Jersey. After receiving his Ph.D. he returned to Cambridge in 1938 and worked for the Government Code and Cypher School part time. It was here that he met his nemisis, the German Enigma machine. For two years, he and his team worked tirelessly to break the encryption. By 1940 Turing had invented the Bombe machine which decrypted the daily codes and enabled the British to win the battle of the Atlantic.

As his work was conducted under the Official Secrets Act, he recieved no public recognition for his achievements, and so he retreated to his former life. He spent the remainder of his career programming and testing artificial intelligence at Manchester University, as well as constructing the first computer to calculate mathematical equations.

I am envious of Turing’s mind. He managed to foresee advancement in confined regions that hadn’t even been considered before. He knew what he wanted to do and remarkably he managed to achieve them. See Turing is a hero in more ways than one. He was the silent saviour, a visionary and incredibly brave, so he deserved our unconditional respect. Yet what happened next is horrifying.

In 1952 Turing was charged with idecency for having sexual relations with a 19 year old man named Murray. After pleading guilty, he underwent hormonal treatment, designed to reduce his libido. As a result, he was rendered impotent and caught gynaecomastia. After the conviction, Turing’s security clearance was removed and he was unable to continue his cryptographic consultancy for the Government. He was also denied entry into the United States. So essentially his career was directly terminated by his sexual orientation.

Turing committed suicide in 1954.

Today such demeaning, inhumane practises cease to exist in the Western world, yet that doesn’t appease the injustice of Turing’s ordeal. Prejudice is still alive and well in society, so we still have a long way to come. Sexual orientation or gender are not factors that should come under consideration in the workplace; it’s a persons merrit and skill that should determine their success. Just imagine what other advancements Turing could have made if he had lived past 41. In my opinion he was just getting started.

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