Thursday, 26 December 2013

Alan Turing, A Victim of Religious Bigots

BBC News - Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing

The news that the late computer genius Alan Turing has been given a royal pardon for his conviction in 1952 for 'gross indecency', i.e., being homsexual, or more to the point, embarrassing the establishment by being exposed as homosexual, is welcome if small comfort to his relatives.

It marks another milestone in the move towards a kinder, more tolerant and inclusive and less censorious, post-Christian Britain.

Turing's contribution to the war effort during the fight against fascism was immense. Any other British subject making anything approaching his contribution would have been given at least a knighthood, if not a peerage yet, under the influence of Christian bigotry, homesexuality was considered an illness and a crime.

An illness and a crime? Yes, Christian 'morality' is perfectly capable of regarding even the effects of real illness as criminal because illnesses are caused by evil spirits and only the morally degenerate would allow themselves to be possessed, as everyone knows. The Bible is full of stories of illnesses and disabilities caused by possession. Even the 'creator god' in the form of Jesus took this for granted.

Turing's work with the Bletchley Park codebreakers undoubtedly shortened the war by helping to crack the German Enigma code and saved thousands of lives. Even without that, his contribution to computer science alone should have earned him his nation's accolade. He is widely regarded as the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence, having formalised the concept of a computer algorithm and proved that any computable problem can be solved with a suitable algorithm. The 'Turing Machine' is a theoretical programmable machine which is capable of solving any such problem.

Turing also devised the 'Turing Test' as a way to test whether a computer has achieved a human level of intelligence.

The Turing test is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. In the original illustrative example, a human judge engages in natural language conversations with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give the correct answer to questions; it checks how closely the answer resembles typical human answers. The conversation is limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result is not dependent on the machine's ability to render words into audio.

Under the influence of Christian bigots all this counted for nothing of course. What mattered was not how many lives he had helped save, how he had helped defeat fascism or how much his work on computers had added to human progress, but that he had upset 'God' by loving members of his own gender and having anal intercourse. For that, he had to be humiliated, denied the right to work on any project involving government security or secrets, and, as an alternative to prison, be chemically castrated.

Upset by his treatment at the hands of these censorious hypocrites, Turing sank into depression and despair and took his own life in 1954.

Hundreds of other people, including Oscar Wilde, were convicted of the victimless crime of homosexuality before we began to turn our collective back on the superstitious Bronze Age bigotry to be found in the Bible and decriminalised it. What we now need to do is to get pardons for all these people as a token - and it can only ever be a token - of our shame and disgust at the excesses of our forebears and our resolve never again to allow these bigots to tell us what morality is.

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  1. This is too little too late. He should have been knighted, as you say, not only for his contributions as a war hero, but also for the fact that he advanced computational theory as much as anyone, and was truly the father of artificial intelligence. One of the greatest minds to walk the earth during his time. Imagine what more he could have contributed if he was treated with the dignity and respect that should have been his due.

  2. It's the government that should be seeking his pardon (if he still existed to give it), rather than offering its own. It's the government, not he, that behaved criminally. Of course the same is true of the US government of the same period, and any other which enforced the same kind of laws.

  3. My theory on life is that everything (food, clothing, sex, ...) has an innate purpose and that fulfilling that purpose leads to a more satisfying life, whereas misusing a thing for the sake of shallow pretense ultimately causes depression and frustration. The goal of true morality is to ensure the propagation of life in a healthy manner, both physically and emotionally.

    Homosexuality is an illness by this theory, because sex has a purpose (reproduction and intimate maternal-paternal bonding), but homosexuality doesn't satisfy that purpose. But of course homosexuality shouldn't be a crime. That would be fascist.

    I was personally surprised to even find out this homosexual thing about Alan Turing, because when I was introduced to him in school the only thing I was ever taught about him was that we owe the fundamental design of modern computers to him. (I was a Computer Science major.)

    Anal intercourse is not love. That would be confusing sex with love. Love propagates life. Anal intercourse, on the other hand, is a vain, selfish, and ironically humiliating waste of sexual energy that could otherwise be spent in more worthwhile ways.

    1. Presumably you would condemn sex between couples where one or the other is sterile or where the woman is past the menopause as wrong too because it can't be for reproduction and so has nothing to do with love.

      Personally, it doesn't concern me what two consenting adults do with one another and I can only think of one, not very flattering, reason why it would concern anyone else.


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