Alan Turing died 60 years ago

Alan Turing

Sixty years ago on 7 June 1954, Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954), one of the greatest scholars in the twentieth century, a pioneer in computer science and artificial intelligence research, died at the age of 42.

In Turing’s lifetime homosexuality was considered to be an illness, and homosexual acts were legally punishable offenses in the United Kingdom. The scientist suffered much denigration, and even lost his job as a codebreaker in 1952.

Turing’s cleaner found him dead on 8 June. The official statement established that Turing had died from cyanide poisoning, probably from an apple that lay half-eaten beside his bed. However, the apple was never tested; cyanide poisoning was established by autopsy. Many think that he was killed (lest he should leak some invaluable state secrets), while his mother believed that his death was accidental as the scientist stored the chemicals he used rather neglectfully.

As a result of significant pressure coming from society, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on 11 September 2009 on behalf of the British government for the persecution the scientist had suffered.

“It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the Second World War could have been very different. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely,” Brown stated.

Acknowledging Turing’s accomplishments, and that he had been subjected to inexpiable cruelty, Queen Elisabeth II granted a pardon to the ill-fated genius last December.