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Calls For Official Pardon For Alan Turing, Father Of The Computer

December 15, 2012
Image Credit: Detail of public statue of Alan Turing 1912 - 1954, father of modern computer science, at University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, Great Britain. Credit: Guy Erwood / Shutterstock.com

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Professor Stephen Hawking is among those calling upon British Prime Minister David Cameron to pardon Alan Turing, the mathematician and computer scientist who was instrumental in the breaking of the Enigma code during World War II but was later found guilty of violating laws banning homosexuality.

Hawking, Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse, and eight other prominent figures signed a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph on Friday, according to Raymond Brown of Cambridge News. In the letter, they petition Cameron to “formally forgive” Turing, to whom they refer as “the father of the computer” and “one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era.”

Turing was arrested, charged, and ultimately found guilty of gross indecency resulting from his acknowledgement of a sexual relationship with another man, which was illegal at the time, according to Brown and BBC News. Two years following his arrest, he died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41. An investigation into Turning’s death determined that he had committed suicide.

According to the Daily Mail‘s Sean O’Hare, the authors of the letter said, “We write in support of a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era. He led the team of Enigma code breakers at Bletchley Park, which most historians agree shortened the Second World War.”

“Yet successive governments seem incapable of forgiving his conviction for the then crime of being a homosexual, which led to his suicide“¦ We urge the Prime Minister to exercise his authority and formally forgive the iconic British hero to whom we owe so much as a nation,” they added. “It is time his reputation was unblemished.”

At the time of his death in 1954, his work helping to crack the code of the Enigma machine had not been revealed to the public — it was kept secret until the mid-1970s, according to the BBC.

In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a posthumous apology to Turing and said his treatment was “appalling.” However, Brown “stopped short of granting an official pardon,” O’Hare said, and an attempt to garner him one in February was rejected by the government, despite collection of over 20,000 signatures, the BBC added.

Martin Robbins, author of The Lay Scientist blog (which is published by The Guardian), said that giving Turing a full pardon was “one of those ideas that seem so obviously right it’s scarcely worth giving them a second thought. He was a hero and genius whose life was ruined by the state’s bigotry and prejudice, and no one in their right mind would suggest that he deserves anything less than a full pardon and a groveling apology.”

However, Robbins also has some issues over the proposed pardon.

For one thing, he wonders why it should be limited to just Alan Turing (“tens of thousands of people were convicted under the same law, dating back to Oscar Wilde and earlier. All of them people were victims of the same injustice, and the scale of that injustice was the same whatever their achievements“¦ addressing this only for those who happened to be public heroes is a shallow, insincere and grossly unfair act that just compounds the problem — pardon all of them, or pardon none, but don’t imply through your actions that some are more ‘deserving’ of ‘forgiveness’ than others”).

For another, he wonders what such a move would actually accomplish (“The man himself won’t know much about it“¦ We cannot ‘make it up’ to him: the damage inflicted on his mind, body and career cannot ever be undone.”).

Robbins’ second point was echoed by Tom Chivers, Assistant Comment Editor with The Telegraph, in a December 14 blog entry of his own.

“He was treated like an animal by a nation that owed him everything. If anyone deserves redress, it is Alan Turing,” Chivers wrote. “But will pardoning him achieve that redress? Obviously not. He’s dead. He no longer cares whether his name is in some six-decade-old list of convictions. It won’t even restore his reputation“¦ Pardoning him will make no difference either to Turing or his memory.”

“If Mr. Cameron wants to do something worthwhile, he can perhaps pardon, retrospectively, every single person who was ever convicted of gross indecency or sodomy or whatever for the ‘offense’ of being homosexual, going back to Oscar Wilde and before,” he added. “That at least would show that this whole nasty episode in British history, of punishing people for who they are, is decently buried. Don’t pardon Turing because he was a hero and a genius. Pardon him, and everyone else, because there should never have been a crime in the first place.”

Along with Hawking, Rees, and Nurse, the letter was signed by Lord Currie of Marylebone, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Sharkey, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Baroness Trumpington, Sir Timothy Gowers of the University of Cambridge and Dr. Douglas Gurr of the Science Museum, BBC News reported.


Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online



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