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Belated pride for Turing

Amnesty for a scientist whose conviction for homosexuality led to his death

A statue depicting Alan Turing on the University of Surrey campus in the UK. Photo: shutterstock

"Without his cautionary contribution, the history of World War II could have been completely different," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the time, regarding the role of the mathematician Alan Turing in deciphering the codes of the German military forces in the war. Brown did not exaggerate. Historians estimate that without Turing's contribution, the war could have continued for another two years or more, claiming the lives of millions. However, despite his decisive contribution to saving the world from Nazi Germany, Turing did not receive the recognition he deserved during his lifetime. on the contrary. He was even prosecuted for his sexual tendencies, convicted of homosexuality, and the sentence he was sentenced to eventually led to his tragic death. Only long after his death, the general public recognized his enormous contribution not only to the field of military decoding, but also - perhaps mainly - to computer science. With the recognition came the public call to clear his name, which ended today with the announcement that Queen Elizabeth II granted him a full pardon.


Alan Mathison Turing (Alan Mathison Turing) was born in London in 1912, and from a young age he excelled in mathematics. Immediately after finishing his mathematics studies at the University of Cambridge, he got a fellow position there and started working as a researcher. He worked extensively in the field of logic, and in 1936 he published a groundbreaking paper in which he showed that it was possible to build a machine that could calculate anything that could be calculated. He called it a "universal machine". He spoke about a theoretical machine, but today we all use such machines, and even carry them in our pockets, but know them by another name - "computer". By the time World War II broke out, Turing had managed to finish his doctorate in the US, and with the outbreak of war he was appointed to lead the British system for deciphering the codes of the German army. Turing and his colleagues managed to crack the mode of operation of the terrifying "Enigma" encryption machine used by the Nazi forces. Deciphering the messages and maintaining the strict secrecy surrounding the matter of decoding gave the Allies important military advantages, and contributed greatly to victories in several decisive battles in the war.

After the war, Turing accepted a position at the University of Manchester, where he was involved in the theoretical and practical development of the first computers. At the same time, he started working in the field of artificial intelligence, and there he also laid foundations that were the basis of the field for many years to come. He also developed mathematical research approaches for other fields, such as biology.

Humiliation and depression

The prolific mathematician's enormous contribution was almost cut short in 1952. Turing, who never hid his sexual inclinations, befriended a somewhat dubious type, Arnold Murray. A few days later Murray's friend stole money and belongings from him. Turing complained to the police about the theft, and as a result he was prosecuted - along with Murray - for having homosexual relations, which were prohibited by British law in those days. He was convicted, and had to choose between a prison sentence and experimental chemical treatment to suppress the sexual urge. He chose the chemical treatment and started receiving estrogen injections, which seriously affected his function. He gained a lot of weight and mainly his main work tools were affected - the ability to concentrate and the clarity of thought. These were joined by the public humiliation of his conviction, which led to the denial of his security clearance and the termination of his work with the British Intelligence Agency. Turing became depressed, and two years later he ended his life with a poisoned apple, when he was only 41 years old. Some believe that the symbol of the giant computer company "Apple" - a bitten apple - is a tribute to Alan Turing, the person who laid the foundations for every computer we use today.

A fitting tribute

As mentioned, Turing did not receive the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime, partly because the details of the military decoding work remained confidential for many years after the World War. His contributions to computer science, artificial intelligence and other mathematical fields became clear over the years, as the importance of the fields increased. Since 1966, the American Society for Computer Science has been awarding the award named after Alan Turing, which is considered the most prestigious award in the field, and equal in importance to the Nobel Prize. In recent years, the public demand to retroactively erase Turing's conviction has increased (the law prohibiting homosexuality was repealed in Great Britain in 1967), and in 2009 Prime Minister Brown apologized for the injustice caused to Turing. "On behalf of the British government, I am proud to apologize to Alan and the many others who have suffered a similar fate, due to unfair laws. You deserve much better treatment," said Brown. However, Turing's supporters were not satisfied with an apology, and last year more than 37,000 surfers signed a petition distributed on the Internet, calling for his acquittal of the charge of immoral behavior. The pressure took its toll, and now the Minister of Justice announced the amnesty. "Dr. Turing deserves to be remembered and recognized for his tremendous contribution to the war effort and for his scientific legacy," said Minister Grayling. "A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to such a unique person."

11 תגובות

  1. It is understood that the details about the sexual life are good for ratings. But this can be a platform for fighting the suicide phenomenon. And it is also an opportunity to negatively remind IBM, which played a double game when it sold calculating machines to both the Nazis and the Americans.

  2. Alan Turing's contribution was manifested in the fact that he introduced the idea that a machine can perform calculations. He was concerned with the question of what kinds of problems the machine is capable of solving, one way or the other. The famous problem discusses the question of whether a machine can answer the entire question space. And the answer is negative. And the proof is by way of negation. He used the following problem: Is a program able to resolve itself, if it is a running program without stopping? . The so-called: "The halting problem is undecidable"

  3. When you write fast you make mistakes.
    I wanted to write in the previous comment "error that needs *correction*"

    And if that's the case then we'll add an analogy
    A Turing machine for the von Neumann architecture (or Harvard if you insist) is similar in relation to a geometric line (abstract concept) and a geometric segment (also an abstract concept but let's focus on its physical applications). Seemingly both are the same except that they do not have similar characteristics.

    Describing a certain drawing as a collection of straight lines is as wrong as stating that today's computers are Turing machines.
    The drawing may be a collection of segments (lines with a beginning and an end) as today's computers are von Neumann (or Harvard) machines with all the limitations that accompany this and which do not exist in the theoretical model of Turing machines.

    I didn't quite understand the moderation on the site. Sometimes the reaction passes immediately, sometimes not. Are there any words to avoid?

  4. No, I'm not wrong.
    Today's computers (the overwhelming majority) are von Neumann machines, regardless of the existence of other architectures and there certainly are more architectures.
    A Turing machine is an abstract theoretical model for testing computability.

    Can a von Neumann computer simulate a Turing machine? Definitely yes. Is it a Turing machine, not least because of its physical limitations that do not exist in the theoretical model. Sounds like philosophizing on the edge, is there iodine? Maybe. But it is definitely not! This is a fundamental distinction. In certain contexts I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if they mixed the two. But calling today's computers Turing machines is, in my opinion, a gross mistake. There is no doubt that von Neumann was influenced by Turing, but the two models were created for different purposes and have different characteristics.

  5. In Hellenic culture homosexuality was an ideal, in Sparta the same. in Macedonia too.
    In Rome there was a more ambivalent attitude towards this. Julius Caesar loved both kinds. Augustus preached the sanctity of conventional family life at least outwardly, but the rich of Rome did things with slave girls and slaves.
    Renaissance was probably an acceptance of homosexuality in artist circles. Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.
    Then things probably moved following the prohibition of male intercourse in the Torah, i.e. following the religion's legislation against homosexuals.
    And in the XNUMXth I will not for some reason want my son to be like that.

  6. Amit and my father, you are right. There is no reason for same-sex abortions. And in XNUMX what happened in the youth bar where the senior member of the community set up the bar for his own needs, and used his authority over teenagers and this was also passed in silence by the police and the community. it's bothering. They should have done a home inspection after that. This in no way justifies the discriminatory attitude that exists against gays.
    You must say what the connection is to what we talked about. It has nothing to do with Turing's great contribution and the attitude towards gays in Israel.
    But two-way behavior is required on the part of the gay community.
    The Prime Minister went to a youth bar, Tzipi Livni, Moshe Feiglin Who would have believed?
    What happened there is no different from a teacher and his young students. I mean it's not related to gays in the abstract sense and happens in every sector.
    In the same way, what happened with Eyal Golan and the zigzagging congregation, perhaps due to financial matters, shows that the police do not enforce sexual offenses because they are weak and in a country where there is not enough deterrence for sexual offenses. And now with the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl. Too many such issues are not closed with punishment. On the other side, there is the VP of Hi-Tech who was sentenced to 14 years, and I ask if it was Eyal Golan, and with fat pockets, would he have gotten out without significant damage. I can't prove in any way that anyone paid anyone. But it smells bad and I'm criticizing.

    I will conclude by saying that famous artists and scientists leaders were gay: Leonardo, probably Michael Angelo, probably Raphael. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Oscar Wilde whose story is similar to Turing's. more and more.

  7. יוני
    You are wrong. A Turing machine is a theoretical model comparable to the computers we know today. The von Neumann architecture implements a Turing machine. In particular - the tape of a Turing machine is equivalent to the memory of a von Neumann computer, both of which contain both information and code.
    Another well-known architecture is called Harvard - here there are separate memory spaces for code and data. But, this is also equivalent to a Turing machine. To understand why - remember that a 2-film Turing machine is equivalent to a normal Turing machine.

  8. Colleague, if Alan Turing had lived in Israel he would have suffered financial discrimination and had to fly abroad to get married, but in all other areas there is no problem, his lifestyle was completely legitimate among almost the entire population (with the exception of the traditional populations - of all religions). No one would have arrested him for coming out of the closet and the police should act against those blackmailing him and not against him. Nor would he have received these harsh treatments intended to 'reward him'. Max would get a line in the gossip columns.

    Of course, the legal and economic discriminations need to be addressed, but since this way of life has both public and legal legitimacy (today it is not a criminal offense like 30 years ago, for example), the law in these important issues will also have to be straightened out. We also need to deal with the problem of the oppression of homosexuals in traditional societies such as Also with issues of discrimination against women and many other discriminations.

    However, everything I wrote above may be temporary and will be null and void when a halachic state is established here, that despite all the warnings (by myself and others), no one seems to be taking this threat seriously and trying to do anything to stop it. It is a fact that Bennett and Lapid agreed on the transfer of another 225 million dollars to Yeshiva....

  9. "But today we all use such machines,"
    Inaccurate, we use machines according to von Neumann architecture, there is a fundamental difference between a Turing machine and von Neumann computers.

    It's sad to see how companies and countries want to weaken individual freedom and any Mortomic Potts pardon will not make up for it.

  10. The irony is that today homophobes such as Ayelet Shaked use computer mediums to spread poison against people such as Turing.
    Alan Turing, if he lived today in Israel, would not have the right to marry, for example, nor to equal rights. This is without mentioning that it is possible that the "Jewish state" might not have arisen at all if he had not cracked the "enigma" a critical move for victory over the Nazis.

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