During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre. For a time he was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.
After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, one of the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman's Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted in the development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.
Turing's homosexuality resulted in a criminal prosecution in 1952, when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United Kingdom. He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, just over two weeks before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that his death was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. On 10 September 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated." As of May 2012, a private member's bill was put before the House of Lords which would grant Turing a statutory pardon if enacted.
In January 1952, Turing started a relationship with a 19-year-old unemployed man, Arnold Murray, whom he had met outside the Regal Cinema when walking down Manchester's Oxford Road just before Christmas and had invited to lunch. On 23 January Turing's house was burgled. Murray told Turing that the burglar was an acquaintance of his, and Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation he acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Initial committal proceedings for the trial occurred on 27 February, where Turing's solicitor "reserved his defence". Later, convinced by the advice of his brother and other lawyers, Turing entered a plea of "guilty", in spite of the fact that he felt no remorse or guilt for having committed criminal acts of homosexuality. The case, Regina v. Turing and Murray, was brought to trial on 31 March 1952, where Turing was convicted, and given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted the option of treatment via injections of stilboestrol, a synthetic oestrogen; this treatment was continued for the course of one year. The treatment rendered Turing impotent and caused gynecomastia, fulfilling in the literal sense, Turing's prediction that "no doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out". Murray was given a conditional discharge.
Turing's conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British signals intelligence agency that had evolved from GCCS in 1946. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about homosexual entrapment of spies by Soviet agents, because of the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, in common with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work by the Official Secrets Act.
On 8 June 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead. He had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it was speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was consumed. This suspicion was strengthened when his fascination with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was revealed, especially the transformation of the Queen into the Witch and the ambiguity of the poisoned apple. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954. Turing's ashes were scattered there, just as his father's had been.
Hodges and David Leavitt have suggested that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the 1937 Walt Disney film Snow White, his favourite fairy tale, both noting that (in Leavitt's words) he took "an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew". This interpretation was supported in an article in The Guardian written by Turing's friend, the author Alan Garner, in 2011.
Professor Jack Copeland (philosophy) has questioned various aspects of the coroner's historical verdict, suggesting the alternative explanation of the accidental inhalation of cyanide fumes from an apparatus for gold electroplating spoons, using potassium cyanide to dissolve the gold, which Turing had set up in his tiny spare room. Copeland notes that the autopsy findings were more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion of the poison. Turing also habitually ate an apple before bed, and it was not unusual for it to be discarded half-eaten. In addition, Turing had reportedly borne his legal setbacks and hormone treatment (which had been discontinued a year previously) "with good humour" and had shown no sign of despondency prior to his death, in fact, setting down a list of tasks he intended to complete upon return to his office after the holiday weekend. At the time, Turing's mother believed that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son's careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have arranged the cyanide experiment deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability.
The Alan Turing: Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Paperback: 632 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press; Centennial edition (May 7, 2012)
Amazon: The Alan Turing: Enigma
Amazon Kindle: The Alan Turing: Enigma
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades--all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges's acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life.
Hodges tells how Turing's revolutionary idea of 1936--the concept of a universal machine--laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing's leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program--all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.
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