By: Niranjana Naveen
I, like many others, first came to know about Turing on watching Morten Tyldum’s critically acclaimed ‘The Imitation Game’ of 2014. The movie was intense and moving, but the more I discovered about Alan Turing, the person on whom it was loosely based, I realized how his life was far more poignant than the movie could ever evince.
Alan Mathison Turing was a British scholar and mathematician whose research and contribution to the field of computation and technology have significantly affected the heights it has reached today. More so he was gay, and openly so.
Born in 1912 in London, Turing wasn’t regarded as much of a prodigy at school until his copy of Einstein’s work was discovered with his handwritten notes of concepts well beyond his age. He was also an excellent long-distance runner which he said made his mind clear and relieved him from stress. If not for an injury that prevented him from winning at the trials, he would have contented on the British Olympic team of 1948.
His most renowned work was when he was picked from research to work at the Bletchley Park as a codebreaker/cryptanalyst for the allies to break the infamous Enigma code used by the Nazis in the Second World War. The dedication and brilliance of Turing and his team members led to breaking the code and cutting short the wartime by so much as two years. There, along with his team, he designed the Turing Machine, later customized to the Universal machine which has become the modern computer we see today.
For the purpose of secrecy, Alan Turing and his work were mostly discussed in hushed tones, but discussed, yes. He was required to sign the Official Secrets Act of 1939, in which he agreed not to disclose anything about his work at Bletchley. Turing was himself a very private man and a lot of his ground-breaking studies and works did not include his name simply because he did not insist on it.
As a teenager, Turing had developed romantic feelings for his friend and fellow schoolmate, Christopher Morcom who has been described as Turing’s “first love”. However, their relationship was brought to a tragic end at Morcom’s premature death in 1930. Turing was supposedly left heartbroken and had gone to King’s College, Cambridge as a way of fulfilling his late friend’s dream. His homosexuality grew as a definitive part of his identity there in the queer-tolerant environment of Cambridge. In 1941, he was engaged to Joan Clarke, a fellow cryptanalyst, which he later called off because he couldn’t go through with it after admitting his homosexuality to her.
Alan Turing was an openly homosexual man in 1920s Britain, where the queer was not just an outcast from the society, but faced capital punishment for being so. This put him in frequent and grave trouble. He was denied several opportunities and was once convicted for being involved in a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old man. He was granted probation under the condition of receiving hormonal treatment for a year which resulted in making him impotent and developing breast tissues. This was followed by him losing his job at the British Government Communications Headquarters as a consulting cryptanalyst and subsequent denial of entry into the United States.
On 7 June 1954, Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning and the inquest determined it a suicide.
Turing received a posthumous pardon in 2013, along with thousands of other gay and bisexual men in 2016 under the ‘Alan Turing law’.
Now, numerous decades later, Turing is more renowned and recognized for his work and research than he ever was. He is a new age icon who has brought lgbtq+ representation into the highest levels of science and technology.
In 2011, US President Barack Obama mentioned Alan Turing during his speech in London to both houses of Parliament. “From Newton and Darwin to Edison and Einstein; from Alan Turing to Steve Jobs, we have led the world in our commitment to science and cutting-edge research; the discovery of new medicines and technologies, ” said President Obama.
His genius can be simply known from the fact that his novel ideals on Artificial Intelligence are something that modern researchers and scientists are studying. And that remains his unquestionably biggest achievement.
More can be known about the tempestuous life and even more remarkable brilliance of Alan Turing from his widely popular and extensively detailed biography titled ‘Alan Turing: the Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges.