Petition to pardon Alan Turing in Turing Year

Petition to pardon Alan Turing in Turing Year

Summary: 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.

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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 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."

Turing industry

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.

@jackschofield

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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4 comments
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  • Strangely I am not signing, not because I am Homophobic. But because as a Humanitarian who believes in Civil Liberties I do not accept Laws enacted without the peoples consent are legal. Asking for a pardon is accepting that they were, I would recommend 'forcing' through a repeal of that law on the basis of its illegality, being cruel and inhumane.

    The law he was convicted on would not pass through statute today, the thought that the Faith minority in government could force laws into being to persecute those whose behavior was against their tenets is abhorrent. If it is not right today, it was not right 60 years ago.

    If you accept the pardon, that law based on Alan Turing's conviction and sentence including his treatment at the hands of the state is still there to be used in the future, and that is not acceptable.
    L1ma
  • A pardon doesn't lend moral weight to the law and it certainly doesn't put it back on the statute books. A pardon for Turing would be a good first step.

    MB
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • 1. The act of pardoning.
    2. Law
    a. Exemption of a convicted person from the penalties of an offense or crime by the power of the executor of the laws.
    b. An official document or warrant declaring such an exemption.

    I never said it will put the law back on the statute books, the law itself was an illegal act determined to persecute a minority removing their rights to the protection of the law. You cannot Pardon someone for a crime they have not committed.

    I could MB if in Government make it a crime punishable by imprisonment to talk on bulletin boards, and because it will be against the interests of my successors to allow free speech and the ability to question their rights to impose any arbitrary laws and powers over you, the chances would be you would never return to a normal life if released, every employer would find you being brought in for questioning for the slightest reason, and you would never work for the state (51% of all employment in the UK). Which is exactly what happened to Alan Turing.

    It is about justice not law. Pardoning Turing accepts that his conviction was true and that the Justice of the peace who convicted him and the police were right to prosecute (2.a).

    Why is it that after 60 YEARS you have to ASK for a pardon for a non crime ?.
    L1ma
  • I would gladly sign this petition but I am prevented as I am not a citizen or resident of the UK. Something like this should really be open to global support.
    russell.cawthorne