Alan Turing: "Taking Pride in Progress”

There are a handful of specific moments in history where we are reminded of just how important the development of technology is, and just how much credit we need to give to the geniuses who make it all possible. Alan Turing is a well-known figure in history for his contribution to ending World War II by breaking the Enigma machine code. This effort has been noted by historians to have shortened the war by at least a full two years. Beyond this, the technologies developed by Turing were the beginnings of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, which are both heavily studied today.

Alan Turing mathematician beginning of the internet

Turing was a mathematician, logician, computer scientist, and cryptologist. His excellence shown at King's college, followed by his completion of a PhD at Princeton earned him an invitation to Britain’s code breaking team at Bletchley Park.

Turing's ability to code break and problem solve was never before seen, however his mind for the machine that could simplify the process was a historical game-changer for the war and for technology beyond.

After his time at Bletchley Park, he went on to create the Automatic Computing Engine, one of the first versions of a computer as we know it today. He spent the rest of his adult career working on computer development in Manchester and exploring the world of artificial intelligence. Today, Turing is looked at as an inspiration for many young computer scientists.

However, while today Turing is held in high-esteem, he was fighting another historical battle during his career — the one of homophobia around the world. In 1952, at the age of 40, Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts — a criminal offense that led to chemical castration and a life of hormone suppressing drugs. He died just two years later due to chemical poisoning, which many speculate to have been an act of suicide. It wasn’t until 2013 when Queen Elizabeth gave him a posthumous pardon. The Alan Turing Law was then passed in 2017 to retroactively pardon all men that were previously convicted under the legislation prosecuting homosexual people in England.

Today, we can remember Turing for his significant contributions to the world of computer science, but can also keep him in our minds as a reminder of how his contributions, along with many other LGBTQ people’s contributions to the world, were overshadowed by their sexuality. In Turing's later life, he was not awarded for his service to his country and the world, but was prosecuted by the people around him for something he could not change.

This Pride month, we want to recognize and take pride in the independent thinkers of all backgrounds, and remember that we can always do better than what we are doing today. We can thank Alan Turing for setting the stage of the many technologies we have today, but want to thank him most for persevering in his field even when he would not be properly credited until many years after he died.

#IndependentThinkers at GRI

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