Learning to say sorry

SEVENTY years ago, a 27-year-old mathematician called Alan Turing arrived at Bletchley Park, 86 kilometres north of London and headquarters of the British cryptography operation, to help break the Nazis' secret codes.

During his studies at the University of Cambridge and at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Turing had laid the foundations for computer science by imagining a machine that would be capable of any form of computation.

At Bletchley, however, he was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code, among others, and helping to shorten the second world war. After the war, he worked on artificial intelligence and created the Turing test, designed to show if a machine can think in any meaningful way.

But being homosexual, Turing fell victim to a toxic combination of prejudice and science. In 1952, after being convicted of gross indecency, he was given the choice of prison or oestrogen injections to "cure" his homosexuality. He chose the latter, lost his security clearance, and in 1954 committed suicide, biting into an apple dipped in potassium cyanide.


Post a Comment