Online Petition for an Apology

Reply Tue 1 Sep, 2009 03:12 pm
Petition seeks apology for Enigma code-breaker TuringStory Highlights
More than 17,000 people sign petition calling for apology for Alan Turing

Turing best known for creating machine to decode German Enigma messages

Found guilty of gross indecency in 1952, committed suicide two years later

Cumming: "Turing is clearly someone of international stature"
updated 2 hours, 21 minutes agoNext Article in World »

By Hilary Whiteman

LONDON, England (CNN) -- An online petition demanding a formal apology from the British government for its treatment of World War II code-breaker Alan Turing is gaining momentum.

A portrait of Alan Turing is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery's "Gay Icons" exhibition.

1 of 3 Turing was subjected to chemical castration in 1952 after being found guilty of the charge of gross indecency for having a homosexual relationship, an illegal act at the time. He committed suicide two years later.

More than 17,000 people have added their names to the petition since it opened three weeks ago, urging the government to "recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man's life and career."

The petition was created by computer scientist John Graham-Cumming, who said he grew "mad" at the country's memory of a man he says should be considered one of its national heroes.

"I'm looking for an apology from the British government because that's where I think the wrong was done. But Turing is clearly someone of international stature," Graham-Cumming said.

Turing was best known for inventing the Bombe, a code-breaking machine that deciphered messages encoded by German Enigma machines during World War II.

The messages provided the Allies with crucial information from the British government's code-breaking headquarters in Bletchley Park where Turing worked full-time during the war.

He was considered a mathematical genius and went on to develop the Turing machine, a theory that automatic computation cannot solve all mathematical problems, which is considered the basis of modern computing.

However, to avoid a custodial sentence for gross indecency Turing agreed to undergo chemical castration. He was injected with estrogen, an experience that is widely believed to have led to his suicide just two years later. Turing was just 41 when he ended his life by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

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Graham-Cumming has not yet received a response from the British government to his request for an apology, nor has he received a reply from Queen Elizabeth II to whom he wrote last week asking that Turing be considered for a posthumous knighthood.

"There is no doubt in my mind," he wrote, "that if Turing had lived past age 41 his international impact would have been great and that he likely would have received a knighthood while alive."

Graham-Cumming's efforts to draw attention to Turing's life has attracted an international response.

"This morning I woke up to an inbox stuffed full of e-mails and blog postings from around the world on Turing, and many people were saying 'it's a pity I can't sign the British petition," he said. The main online petition is only open to British citizens.

Supporters have set up an international petition which, at the time of writing, had attracted just eight signatures. Now there are many more.

Graham-Cumming is not fazed. "My focus is really on Britain at the moment because I think that is where the greatest need is, but I'm very happy for anyone in the world to know about Alan Turing."

High-profile signatories to the petition include author Ian McEwan, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Graham-Cumming said if the government would not extend an apology, "the least it could do is to put Bletchley Park on a sound financial footing in Turing's name."

Earlier this year, the center's supporters created their own online petition urging the government to "save Bletchley Park."

The site receives no external funding and has been turned down for funds by the National Lottery, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The government replied to the petition last week saying that, while it "agrees that the buildings on the Bletchley Park site are of significant historic importance and, although recognizing the excellent work being carried out there, at present it has no plans, nor the resources, to extend its sponsorship of museums and galleries beyond the present number."

A portrait of Turing is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, as part of its "Gay Icons" exhibition. He was one of the six personal icons selected by contributor Chris Smith, Britain's first openly gay Member of Parliament.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 3,042 • Replies: 10
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Reply Tue 1 Sep, 2009 05:06 pm
interesting guy

Most believe that his death was intentional, and the death was ruled a suicide.

His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals.

Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability.

Others suggest that Turing was re-enacting a scene from Snow White, his favourite fairy tale.
0 Replies
Robert Gentel
Reply Thu 10 Sep, 2009 06:54 pm
And here's the apology:

2009 has been a year of deep reflection - a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate - by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices - that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

Gordon Brown


Reply Thu 10 Sep, 2009 07:16 pm
@Robert Gentel,
0 Replies
Reply Thu 10 Sep, 2009 10:19 pm
CBC broadcast an interview with the man behind this move to get an apology and recognize Turing's contribution. Bletchley Park was a crucial factor in Allied operations in Europe. Fascinatin' stuff . . .
0 Replies
Reply Sun 1 Jan, 2012 10:13 pm

2012: The Alan Turing Year

Daniel Honan on January 1, 2012, 11:05 PM

What's the Big Idea?

He helped win World War II by cracking the German ENIGMA code but was persecuted by Great Britain for being gay. Today, his name is synonymous with the test he invented in 1950 for determining a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior.

June 23, 2012 will be the hundredth anniversary of Alan Turing's birth, and a centenary celebration has been planned with events around the globe. It is perhaps most fitting that the Royal Mail will be issuing a commemorative stamp, a posthumous honor for one of England's heroes who was so mistreated during his life.

What's the Significance?

The Year of Turing also presents an interesting framework for us to gauge the progress of computing. When Turing invented his test in 1950, some predicted that so-called "Strong A.I.," that is, artificial intelligence that matches or exceeds human intelligence, could be achieved in a few decades. Over sixty years later, every machine that has been tasked with simulating human intelligence has failed the so-called Turing Test.

And yet, scientists have become both impressed and alarmed by the tremendous leaps forward in A.I. capabilities in recent years. A.I. has been put into common use by financial institutions, and found promising applications in medical equipment, search technology, games and transportation systems. On the other hand, equal advances have been made in seemingly Frankensteinian creations such as computer viruses and predatory drones, which could prove dangerous if they have achieved what The New York Times called the “cockroach stage of machine intelligence."
0 Replies
Reply Mon 2 Jan, 2012 12:37 am

This tells us something about the GRATITUDE of government.
It 'd have been different if he'd been arrested during the war.

It is worse than a pity that he was not able to AVENGE himself upon government.

Individual citizens need ways to discipline government.
We created the damned thing; we are the gods of its creation.
The relationship between the Individual citizen and government is ADVERSARIAL.
That shud be on every dollar bill.
Little children shud all be tawt to regard government as the enemy.

We shoud start by looking down on government, with contempt and loathing because it seeks to govern.

Crack the whip on the damned thing
and STOP admiring it.

0 Replies
Reply Sat 23 Jun, 2012 04:03 am

Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius and codebreaker born 100 years ago on 23 June, may not have committed suicide, as is widely believed.

At a conference in Oxford on Saturday, Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland will question the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest.

He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict.

Indeed, he argues, Turing's death may equally probably have been an accident.

What is well known and accepted is that Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning.

His housekeeper famously found the 41-year-old mathematician dead in his bed, with a half-eaten apple on his bedside table.

It is widely said that Turing had been haunted by the story of the poisoned apple in the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and had resorted to the same desperate measure to end the persecution he was suffering as a result of his homosexuality.

But according to Prof Copeland, it was Turing's habit to take an apple at bedtime, and that it was quite usual for him not to finish it; the half-eaten remains found near his body cannot be seen as an indication of a deliberate act.

Indeed, the police never tested the apple for the presence of cyanide.

Moreover, Prof Copeland emphasises, a coroner these days would demand evidence of pre-meditation before announcing a verdict of suicide, yet nothing in the accounts of Turing's last days suggest he was in anything but a cheerful mood.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote
We have... been recreating the narrative of Turing's life, and we have recreated him as an unhappy young man who committed suicide. But the evidence is not there”
End Quote
Prof Jack Copeland

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Alan Turing's genius
He had left a note on his office desk, as was his practice, the previous Friday to remind himself of the tasks to be done on his return after the Bank Holiday weekend.

Nevertheless, at the inquest, the coroner, Mr JAK Ferns declared: "In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next." What he meant by "of this type" is unclear.

The motive for suicide is easy to imagine. In 1952, after he had reported a petty burglary, Turing found himself being investigated for "acts of gross indecency" after he revealed he had had a male lover in his house.

Faced with the prospect of imprisonment, and perhaps with it the loss of the mathematics post he held at Manchester University, which gave him access to one of the world's only computers, Turing accepted the alternative of "chemical castration" - hormone treatment that was supposed to suppress his sexual urges.

It is often repeated that the chemicals caused him to grow breasts, though Turing is only known to have mentioned this once.

The authorities' continuing interest in Turing became apparent in 1953 when a gay Norwegian acquaintance, Kjell, announced by postcard his intention to visit him at his Wilmslow home, but mysteriously never arrived.

Turing told a friend, by way of explanation: "At one stage, the police over the north of England were out searching for him."

With six decades of hindsight, these oppressive attentions, the nation's failure to appreciate his wartime contributions, his apparent sidelining at the Manchester computer department, have led to a tragic picture of Turing being hounded during his last years, and suicide being a natural outcome.

But Prof Copeland argues that on the contrary, Turing's career was at an intellectual high, and that he had borne his treatment "with good humour".

Of the Kjell affair, Turing had written that "for sheer incident, it rivalled the Arnold [gross-indecency] story"; and immediately after his conviction had told a friend: "The day of the trial was by no means disagreeable.

"Whilst in custody with the other criminals, I had a very agreeable sense of irresponsibility, rather like being back at school."

On the face of it, these are not the expressions of someone ground down by adversity.

A centenary celebration at Cambridge University considers Turing's legacy
What is more, Turing had tolerated the year-long hormone treatment and the terms of his probation ("my shining virtue was terrific") with amused fortitude, and another year had since passed seemingly without incident.

In statements to the coroner, friends had attested to his good humour in the days before his death.

His neighbour described him throwing "such a jolly [tea] party" for her and her son four days before he died.

His close friend Robin Gandy, who had stayed with him the weekend before, said that Turing "seemed, if anything, happier than usual".

Yet the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide "while the balance of his mind was disturbed".

Prof Copeland believes the alternative explanation made at the time by Turing's mother is equally likely.

Turing had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he conducted in his tiny spare room - the nightmare room he had dubbed it.

Bombe decryption machine: We should focus on Turing's genius, says Prof Copeland He had been electrolysing solutions of the poison, and electroplating spoons with gold, a process that requires potassium cyanide. Although famed for his cerebral powers, Turing had also always shown an experimental bent, and these activities were not unusual for him.

But Turing was careless, Prof Copeland argues.

The electrolysis experiment was wired into the ceiling light socket.

On another occasion, an experiment had resulted in severe electric shocks.

And he was known for tasting chemicals to identify them.

Perhaps he had accidentally put his apple into a puddle of cyanide.

Or perhaps, more likely, he had accidentally inhaled cyanide vapours from the bubbling liquid.

Prof Copeland notes that the nightmare room had a "strong smell" of cyanide after Turing's death; that inhalation leads to a slower death than ingestion; and that the distribution of the poison in Turing's organs was more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion.

In his authoritative biography, Andrew Hodges suggests that the experiment was a ruse to disguise suicide, a scenario Turing had apparently mentioned to a friend in the past.

Turing was injected with Stilboestrol - a synthesised form of oestrogen But Jack Copeland argues the evidence should be taken at face value - that an accidental death is certainly consistent with all the currently known circumstances.

The problem, he complains, is that the investigation was conducted so poorly that even murder cannot be ruled out. An "open verdict", recognising this degree of ignorance, would be his preferred position.

None of this excuses the treatment of Turing during his final years, says Prof Copeland.

"Turing was hounded," he told the BBC, adding: "Yet he remained cheerful and humorous."

"The thing is to tell the truth in so far as we know it, and not to speculate.

"In a way we have in modern times been recreating the narrative of Turing's life, and we have recreated him as an unhappy young man who committed suicide. But the evidence is not there.

"The exact circumstances of Turing's death will probably always be unclear," Prof Copeland concludes.

"Perhaps we should just shrug our shoulders, and focus on Turing's life and extraordinary work."

Roland Pease has produced two episodes of Discovery on the BBC World Service devoted to Turing. In the first, he follows the events leading up to Turing's design for a fully programmable computer (Ace) at the National Physical Laboratory. In the second episode, to be broadcast on Monday, he explores the life and legacy of Turing. Both programmes are presented by Standup
0 Replies
Reply Tue 24 Dec, 2013 11:57 pm
Britain Tuesday granted a posthumous royal pardon to computer pioneer and World War II code-breaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide after his conviction in 1952 for homosexuality.

Often hailed as the "father of modern computing", Turing played a key role in breaking Germany's naval messages encrypted in the "Enigma" code, an effort that some historians say ensured the early end of World War II.

He died in 1954 after eating an apple laced with cyanide, two years after he was sentenced to chemical castration for the "gross indecency" of homosexuality, a crime in Britain at the time.

Turing lost his job at Britain's GCHQ after his conviction. A GCHQ spokesperson Tuesday said the agency was "delighted about the pardon" granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.Queen Elizabeth II has pardoned Turing for "a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory", Grayling said.
Reply Wed 25 Dec, 2013 12:32 am
taking any form of cyanide, by its smell, supports the fact that he was aware of what he was about to do. The smell of cyanide salts even in a mild acid medium like a fresh apple would be overwhelming unless you really want to end it. (Or unless you were really dumb and he certainly wasn't).
Reply Wed 25 Dec, 2013 08:12 am
Farmerman what I find very very annoying over this matter is that there was still men in power in the UK/US at the time that knew in details the debt the whole Western World owed him that could had stop such a prosecution dead in it track and they did nothing at all to do so.

Churchill was back as prime minister at the time for one thing.

Eisenhower got his English lover all kinds of special treatment including US citizenship but none of these men could be bother to take any steps to protect Turing.
0 Replies

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