Alan Turing

by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2004

It’s fifty years since the death of mathematician, code-breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing. Turing committed suicide after being forced to take estrogen for a year to “cure” him of his homosexuality. I read Andrew Hodges’ excellent biography of Turing when I was in College. I remember Hodges noting that from about 1935 to his death he had a new and basically unprecedented idea about every five or six years. A remarkable character.

{ 9 comments }

1

JP 06.08.04 at 6:04 am

Wait – how would estrogen, of all things, cure a guy of homosexuality?

2

eudoxis 06.08.04 at 6:20 am

Estrogen reduces the amount of testosterone in males. The treatment (chemical castrastion) was intended to produce a decreased libido. Side effects include certain female characteristics, but I haven’t heard that suicidal depression is one of them.

3

dsquared 06.08.04 at 7:22 am

And, I’ve always thought, a pretty good candidate for the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, for winning us the Battle of the Atlantic if nothing else.

4

bad Jim 06.08.04 at 8:53 am

He’s got a brass statue of himself at ease on a park bench in Manchester, and a major award conferred by the Association for Computing Machinery.

Von Neumann, I’ve read, advised him to relocate to the U.S., since his sexual proclivities would have been less dangerous to him there (here). Probably true at the time, and likely still true.

I missed a CompSci lecture, and wondered a while thereafter why the lecturer was shilling for BMW. What’s all this about a Turing machine?

5

bad Jim 06.08.04 at 9:19 am

Assuming that Turing did bite the cyanide-dusted apple (shades of Sleeping Beauty), his criminal conviction, the year of hormone treatment and the likely waning of his creative powers, or, alternatively and equivalenty, his loss of confidence in them, might well have sufficed to induce him to choose the nearest exit.

Bronze, not brass. Sorry about that. The ACM gives the Turing Award anually, and there is no higher praise.

6

harry 06.08.04 at 4:39 pm

Isn’t there a roundabout named after him in Manchester somewhere too?

bq. And, I’ve always thought, a pretty good candidate for the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, for winning us the Battle of the Atlantic if nothing else.

Don’t be silly, Daniel, he was (more-or-less) openly queer, and brainy with it. *And* not really off the top shelf. How could we honour someone like that? Especially for being a war hero.

7

fdl 06.08.04 at 5:11 pm

Cryptonomicon has a great fictionalized version of Turing.

Considering the importance of information theory in today’s world, his contribution to the modern world is probably on a par with Einstein. a great, tragic figure.

francis

8

Arthur D. Hlavaty 06.08.04 at 10:32 pm

I once met a British transvestite who told me he had been given estrogen in an attempt to “cure” him. He said the only difference it made was that he looked better in a dress.

9

Ninion 06.14.04 at 12:49 am

To teach the dog to bark. (c)

Comments on this entry are closed.