On June 7th, the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America commemorates Alan Turing, who was one of the great mathematical minds of the 20th century and spread his talents to philosophy and chemistry, as well. He was both autistic and gay and was out to himself at a fairly young age. When his first love interest died from complications from Bovine TB while he was a teen, his faith was shattered. Turing obtained a degree in mathematics and at the ripe age of 24 published a paper pushing some of the boundaries of computability theory. He was sent to Princeton to study at the Institute for Advanced Studies under Alonzo Church and received his Ph.D. in 1938.
Soon after WWII broke out, Turing played a key role in the war, becaming the star cryptoanalyst of British intelligence and eventually of Allied intelligence. He invented a machine that cracked the German Enigma cipher (which was designed to be constantly changing). Turing was the key to Allied cryptological superiority that significantly contributed to the Allied victory. That was the first time he changed the world, although it was kept strictly confidential for decades. Turing changed the world again by devising the world’s very first compiling program and by designing on paper an electronic computer that could run any program. Turing’s invention of the compiler program is probably the closest thing there is to the beginning of modern computing; and, by founding modern computer science, he changed the world again.
We also sadly recall his shame and martyrdom. In 1952, one of his lovers helped an accomplice break into Turing’s house, and in the police investigation Turing admitted that he had slept with the man, which was illegal in Britain in 1952, but rarely prosecuted and rarely punished heavily. The judge in the case was particularly upset that Turing had not enlisted and helped his country in its time of desperate need, and demanded clarification. Turing begged the government for a letter, that without giving away the secrets of just how much Turing had helped in WWII, would say that Turing had served his country and that his government was happy with his service. They refused. And although he had been awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1945 for his war-time service, he was forbidden to share this fact with anyone without high-security clearance. The judge publicly called Turing a coward and a reprobate, sentencing him to 10 years in jail. Shortly afterwards, his lawyers cut a plea deal to suspend the sentence in return for house arrest and an experimental “chemical castration” hormone treatment.
From 1952-1954 Turing was despondent, friendless, isolated, depressed and emotionally and physically volatile in response to the drugs. On June 7th, 1954 he was found dead of cyanide poisoning with a half eaten apple nearby that was never tested for poison and without any note.
There are many theories about what exactly happened. The inquest ruled that Turing had committed suicide. If so, his recent trial, public shaming, arrest, enforced experimental drug-regime, and inability to defend himself without violating national security are surely to blame. His mother argued that his poisoning was accidental, and resulted from incautious handling of the chemicals he was researching with in his lab. Some have speculated that he was assassinated by National Security forces to keep some secret or to prevent him from inventing something else potentially dangerous, like a new code or a new code breaker. Another theory is that he intentionally re-enacted the scene from Snow White with the poison apple.
Turing has been honored in many ways since his death. He ranked 21st in a 2002 BBC poll of the 100 most influential Britons of all time. In 1999, Time named him one of 100 most influential people of the 20th century, saying:
“The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opens a spreadsheet or uses a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.”
On Sept 10, 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for the British Government’s failure to intercede on Turing’s behalf at his trial and thanked him once again for his many services to his country and to the free world.
The Orthodox-Catholic Church of America considers Alan Turing a Passion Bearer to the culture of secrecy and societal oppression. Alan Turing was one of the smartest, most genuine and noble persons who ever lived. Alan Turing’s work lead the team that broke the code generated by the Enigma Machine and saved countless lives during World War II. He is arguably more important than any other single individual in developing the computer. Alan Turing was officially arrested and condemned for being gay; however, his arrest also resulted from his autism. He made the mistake people with autism often make: trusting others too much and giving them too much information. So, in the end, he was martyred because he was autistic and gay.
As family and friends know, I often cry while watching movies or during the evening news. I also frequently cry because of the stupidity, bigotry, and desperation that subject people to unjust pain and suffering for simply being true to their God-created uniqueness. I cry today in remembering Alan Turing, who did as much positive work to create the modern world in which we live as any other individual in history. Please remember him and all those who have died in shame while doing good, even if their contributions have not come to light, as Turing’s eventually did.