A Leeds University professor is backing an e-petition asking the UK government to pardon computer pioneer Alan Turing, who worked on code breaking at Bletchley Park during World War II. This follows on from an e-petition launched two years ago, which resulted in prime minister Gordon Brown apologising for Turing's treatment.
Turing, a homosexual, was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, imprisoned, and given a hormonal treatment ("chemical castration") to reduce his libido. He committed suicide by cyanide poisoning in 1954, at the age of 41.
The second e-petition at epetitions.direct.gov.uk says:
"Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he'd done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.
The new e-petition (update: apparently launched by William Jones) is being supported by maths professor Barry Cooper, who chairs the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee. Turing was born in London on June 23, 1912, and to celebrate the centenary, 2012 has been designated The Alan Turing Year. Cooper says: "A pardon from the Government in the centenary year of Turing’s birth would be warmly welcomed by his family, friends, colleagues and those in the scientific community who have benefitted from the foundations he laid."
Alan Turing (on the bus steps) with other members of the Walton Athletic Club. Source: The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook
Turing established a conceptual basis for computing in an important paper, On Computable Numbers, published in 1936. After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE. In 1948, he joined the Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester, which made a significant contribution to the development of computing in the UK. In 1950, he proposed a way to measure machine intelligence, which today is known as the Turing Test.
Cooper says: "The foundations [Turing] laid in computer science and mathematical logic are relatively unknown to the wider public, despite the prevalence of everyday devices based on his work. We hope that this petition and the year-long celebrations planned in 2012 will raise awareness and cement his place as one of the great scientists."
However, Turing's work has been widely publicised in books and a number of television documentaries. These include Channel 4's recent "drama documentary" Britain's Greatest Codebreaker, which was broadcast on November 21 and prompted Cooper's e-petition. It can be viewed online at 4oD for (at the time of writing) another 19 days.
There is also a digital archive of Turing's work at King's College, Cambridge.
Warner Bros has recently bought a script, The Imitation Game, for a Turing bio-pic based on Andrew Hodges' biography Alan Turing: The Enigma.