As perhaps an act of atonement and regret for their past sins, the British government has decides to feature the brilliant Alan Turing on the face of its 50-pound note. Turing is considered to be the father of both computer science and artificial intelligence. He gained notoriety as a World War II codebreaker that broke the famous German enigma and change the tide of the war.
The Sad Story of Alan Turing
Unfortunately, his life turned out nothing like it should have. Because he was a homosexual, he was subjected to torment and cruelty. And on top of that, the British government criminally charged him for his homosexuality, and they chemically castrated him for that offense.
After he committed suicide in the year 1954, his ashes were scattered quietly around the Woking Crematorium. Sadly, he had spent his last years as a criminal. He was arrested for homosexual acts in the year 1952.
Several activists have devoted many years trying to rehabilitate legacy of Alan Turing. During the year of 2009, the programmer John Graham-Cumming began a petition to get the British government to atone for the way they treated Turing. The Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was in office at that time, released an apology statement pertaining to the “appalling way [Turing] was treated” and it concluded, “we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
After a few years of debate that followed within parliament, Queen Elizabeth finally issued a posthumous royal pardon to Alan Turing in the year 2013. Now, the Bank of England recently announced that Alan Turing is slated to be the new face of the £50 note. These bills will begin circulating in 2021.
Alan Turing’s Life
Born in the year 1912 on the western side of London, Turing demonstrated an amazing aptitude for math science very early in his life. He went on to attend Cambridge University, where he majored in math and tinkled in field of cryptography.
In the year 1936, he authored the first of many significant papers, “On Computable Numbers.” Turing pointed out that “it is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence.” Unlike the highly-specialized adding machines of his time, Turing visualized his “universal computing machine” as one scanner that could compute and carry out any set of instructions or data.
Outbreak of War
Turing’s work got cut short after Britain went to war with the Germans in the year 1939. He immediately reported to Bletchley Park, which was a Victorian mansion that was procured by the Government Code and Cypher School. It was there his team went about attempting to crack the German’s secret code system known as the Enigma machine.
The Enigma actually resembles an overpowered typewriter. To send a secretly coded message, a person would merely type into this machine. The machine would take the letters and create a “cipher-text” that was transmitted in secret. On the other end, whenever an encrypted correspondence was received, the “cipher-text” was typed into the Enigma, and the decoded letters would light up one by one on the screen.
Where the most secret codes would simply swap all “D”s for “Bs,” the Enigma had 17,000 different combinations, as “D”s could be “C”s, “N”s, “X”s, or any other letter – all of which are in the very same message, depending on the arrangement of letters that had preceded it. And this was done automatically.
Solving the Enigma
Working from earlier investigations of the Enigma by mathematicians from Poland, Turing’s solution was assuming that inside of any message, there was a string of decrypted text that would identically match the text that was encrypted. If one were to identify these “cribs,” they would be able to progress backward to find the Enigma’s patterns which would allow them to decipher the remainder of the transmission.
Turing called this new class of machines “the bombe.” It went on to translate all kinds of messages, which includes the ones among Nazi secret service personnel and others that pinpointed positions of German U-boats. Many experts believe that Turing literally shaved many years off the duration of the war and saved the lives of millions.
But all of this work was performed in secret. Right after the armistice, these magnificent research teams from Bletchley Park disbanded, these enigma machines were demolished, and Turing continued to work for the British government in a variety of high-security clearance facilities. In the year 1950, Turing published his famous “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which led to the subsequent creation of artificial intelligence.
It was in 1952 that Turing pled “guilty” to the charges of “gross indecency”, which was the legal name for committing homosexual acts, which were considered to be a crime at that time. The court gave him one of two choices. He could either be imprisoned or he could be chemical castrated using the estrogen medication diethylstilbestrol. He chose the latter. The chemicals were supposed to reduce his libido, but they made him impotent and increased his breast tissue.
It was only two years later that his housekeeper found his body. He had taken cyanide to poison himself. He was just 41 year olds.
The New Banknote
The new banknote that will feature Turing will put him among elite scientists such as Hawking, Newton, and Darwin. Unfortunately, it will not remove the mistakes of the British government. Many believe that this bright spot will simply reveal the atrocities that Turing and others in the LGBTQ community have suffered. Ironically, Turing penned the words in his famous 1950 paper regarding artificial intelligence, “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”