Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, mathematical genius and codebreaker who was instrumental in the creation of the world’s first computers when he worked in Bletchley Park, England, helping to break the German Enigma codes. His work, and that of his colleagues, was instrumental in shortening World War II, and arguably changing the result of that conflict.
Alan Turing died in 1954 aged 41, supposedly committing suicide by eating an apple dipped in cyanide. However, Turing expert Professor Jack Copeland believes the evidence presented at the inquest was flawed.
Alan Turing has been claimed to be a victim of the establishment’s fear and hatred of homosexuality. In 1952, after reporting a petty burglary, Turing found himself being investigated for “acts of gross indecency” when he revealed his male lover had been in the house with him. It is so easy in these liberated days for us to forget that at this time being gay was a criminal offense and frequently punished under the law.
Faced with imprisonment, Turing agreed to chemical castration to suppress his “abnormal sexual urges”. His suicide was explained away as guilt at his aberration, and depression at his ostracization from society. However, Profess Copeland suggests no real investigation was carried out, and that Turing was in fact in good spirits and his career at a high.
During the inquest into his death the coroner declared “In a man of this type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.” One can only speculate what he meant by a man of this type, but I think we can all imagine his true meaning.
It is fascinating to hypothesize what Turning might have contributed, and how he would have felt, about the development of his creations. In 1980 he would have been 80 years old and likely still living to witness the explosion of personal computers – a long way from the early machines with their hundreds of valves he helped develop in Bletchley Park.
I sent my two female lovers, Georgia and Lillian, to Bletchley park in Georgia’s English Rose because I like the notion that my fictional heroines might have met with Alan Turing. I smile to imagine the conversations they may have had over afternoon tea.
I had to write this post in memory and celebration of a great man, a pioneer in more ways than one, and an example of how established government and society deals with those they consider aberrant. I have started work on a series of articles exploring the way religion, government and society has attempted to control access to erotica and erotic images, which has been going on for millennia. More on that soon.
In the meantime, tonight I lift a glass a wine and toast Alan Turing. May he be laughing down at us from whatever heaven he resides in.