Mathematician and computer scientist
‘No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I’ve not found out.’ Alan Turing
Many people call Alan Turing the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence (AI). He created new ways of thinking about computers, biology, and how our minds work. At the end of World War 2, in 1945, Turing had a very successful job. In 1946 he got an OBE award from the Queen. By 1948, he was Deputy Director of the Computing Machine Laboratory at the University of Manchester. In 1951 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Alan spoke openly about his attraction to men. He thought it was quite normal. In December 1951, Turing met Arnold Murray in Manchester. Murray was 19 years old. Turing was 39 years old. In January, Murray visited Alan’s home. Later that month, Turing came home after giving a talk to the BBC on artificial intelligence. He found that a burglar had broken into his home.
Murray told Turing that he knew the burglar. The burglar stole from Murray’s lovers. He knew they would not tell the police. Many men knew what the police did if they thought you were homosexual. They would ignore the crime and concentrate on the homosexuality.
Alan reported the break-in to the police. He tried to hide his relationship. But in the end he wrote a long letter telling the truth. He gave details of his homosexual relationship. Both men were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.
Turing had to choose between going to prison and probation. If he chose probation, he had to have hormonal treatment. We now call this ‘chemical castration’. Within a year of the treatment Turing was impotent and his breasts were bigger.
The conviction and castration had a terrible effect on Alan. Today it is difficult to imagine how bad the views about homosexuality were in the 1950s. They ruined lives and destroyed people. Many LGB people had to leave the Armed Forces and the public and foreign services. Turing lost his security pass. He had to stop his job for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He managed to keep his job in Manchester. The police made it very difficult for him to have a normal life.
On 8 June 1954, days before Alan Turing’s 42nd birthday, his housekeeper found him dead. He died of cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple was beside his bed. The apple was never tested for cyanide but people guessed he used it to poison himself. An inquest said that he had committed suicide but there is room for doubt.
After his death Alan Turing was forgotten because of the ‘scandal’ and official secrecy. But also because Alan was a very quiet man.
Alan Turing is now famous. This is because of research into the history of computing. Also there have been films about his life and campaigns showing the injustice he faced. There are ‘Alan Turing Laws’ across the UK. These laws pardon men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that made homosexual acts a criminal offence.
Voices and Visibility 2019