"Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing"
December 24th, 2013
Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon.
It addresses his 1952 conviction for homosexuality for which he was punished by being chemically castrated.
The conviction meant he lost his security clearance and had to stop the code-cracking work that had proved vital to the Allies in World War Two.
The pardon was granted under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after a request by Justice Minister Chris Grayling.
"Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind," said Mr Grayling.
He said the research Turing carried out during the war at Bletchley Park undoubtedly shortened the conflict and saved thousands of lives.
Turing's work helped accelerate Allied efforts to read German Naval messages enciphered with the Enigma machine. He also contributed some more fundamental work on codebreaking that was only released to public scrutiny in April 2012.
"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," said Mr Grayling.
"Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."
The pardon comes into effect on 24 December.
Turing died in June 1954 from cyanide poisoning and an inquest decided that he had committed suicide. However, biographers, friends and other students of his life dispute the finding and suggest his death was an accident.
Many people have campaigned for years to win a pardon for Turing.
Dr Sue Black, a computer scientist, was one of the key figures in the campaign.
She told the BBC that she hoped all the men convicted under the anti-homosexuality law would now be pardoned.
"This is one small step on the way to making some real positive change happen to all the people that were convicted," she said.
"It's a disgrace that so many people were treated so disrespectfully."
Some have criticised the action for not going far enough and, 59 years after Turing's death, little more than a token gesture.
"I just think it's ridiculous, frankly," British home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair told the BBC.
"He's been dead these many years so what's the point? It's a silly nonsense.
"He was such a fine, great man, and what was done was appalling of course. It makes no sense to me, because what's done is done."
'It's very wrong'
Lord Sharkey, a Liberal Democrat peer who wrote a private member's bill calling for a royal pardon in July 2012, said the decision was "wonderful news".
"This has demonstrated wisdom and compassion," he said. "It has recognised a very great British hero and made some amends for the cruelty and injustice with which Turing was treated."
Vint Cerf, the computer scientist known as one of the founding fathers of the internet, also welcomed the development.
"The royal pardon for Alan Turing rights a long-standing wrong and properly honours a man whose imagination and intellect made him legendary in our field," he told the BBC.
Technology entrepreneur Mike Lynch added: "Society didn't understand Alan Turing or his ideas on many levels but that was a reflection on us, not on him - and it has taken us 60 years to catch up."
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "I pay tribute to the government for ensuring Alan Turing has a royal pardon at last but I do think it's very wrong that other men convicted of exactly the same offence are not even being given an apology, let alone a royal pardon.
"We're talking about at least 50,000 other men who were convicted of the same offence, of so-called gross indecency, which is simply a sexual act between men with consent."
Mr Tatchell said he would like to see Turing's death fully investigated.
"While I have no evidence that he was murdered, I do think we need to explore the possibility that he may have been killed by the security services. He was regarded as a high security risk," he said.
'Not entirely comfortable'
Glyn Hughes, the sculptor of the Alan Turing Memorial in Manchester, said it was "very gratifying" that he had finally been pardoned.
"When we set out to try and make him famous - get him recognised - it was really difficult to collect money," he said.
"None of the big computer companies would stump up a penny for a memorial. They perhaps would now - we've come a very long way."
But he said he was "not entirely comfortable" that Turing had been pardoned while thousands of other gay men had not.
"The problem is, of course, if there was a general pardon for men who had been prosecuted for homosexuality, many of them are still alive and they could get compensation."
In December 2011, an e-petition was created on the Direct Gov site that asked for Turing to be pardoned. It received more than 34,000 signatures but its request was denied by the then justice secretary, Lord McNally, who said Turing was "properly convicted" for what was at the time a criminal offence.
Prior to that in August 2009, a petition was started to request a pardon. It won an official apology from the prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, who said the way Turing was persecuted over his homosexuality was "appalling".
"Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing receives royal pardon"
Mathematician lost his job and was given experimental 'chemical castration' after being convicted for homosexual activity in 1952
December 23rd, 2013
Alan Turing, the second world war codebreaker who took his own life after undergoing chemical castration following a conviction for homosexual activity, has been granted a posthumous royal pardon 59 years after his death.
The brilliant mathematician, who played a major role in breaking the Enigma code – which arguably shortened the war by at least two years – has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen, following a request from the justice secretary, Chris Grayling.
Turing was considered to be the father of modern computer science and was most famous for his work in helping to create the "bombe" that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. He was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting a sexual relationship with a man.
He was given experimental chemical castration as a "treatment". His criminal record resulted in the loss of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), where he had been employed following service at Bletchley Park during the war. He died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, aged 41.
Announcing the pardon, Grayling said: "Dr Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind. His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the second world war, where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.
"His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.
"Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man."
David Cameron described Turing as a "remarkable man". The prime minister added: "His actions saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing."
There had been a long campaign to clear Turing's name, including a private member's bill. In 2009, an "unequivocal apology" was issued by then prime minister Gordon Brown. An e-petition calling for a pardon received 37,404 signatures when it was closed in November last year. The request was declined by the then justice minister Lord McNally on the grounds that Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence.
A pardon is normally granted only when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest, such as a family member. On this occasion, a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met.
There was mixed reaction to the announcement. Iain Standen, chief executive of the Bletchley Park Trust, said Turing was "a visionary mathematician and genius whose work contributed enormously both to the outcome of the war and the computer age".
He added: "The pardon gives further recognition for his outstanding contribution not only to second world war codebreaking but also the development of computing."
Dr Andrew Hodges, tutorial fellow in mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford, and author of the acclaimed biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, said: "Alan Turing suffered appalling treatment 60 years ago and there has been a very well intended and deeply felt campaign to remedy it in some way. Unfortunately, I cannot feel that such a 'pardon' embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else.
"It's far more important that in the 30 years since I brought the story to public attention, LGBT rights movements have succeeded with a complete change in the law – for all. So, for me, this symbolic action adds nothing.
"A more substantial action would be the release of files on Turing's secret work for GCHQ in the cold war. Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954."
Writer David Leavitt, professor of English at Florida University and author of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (2006), said it was "great news". The conviction had had "a profound and devastating" effect on Turing, Leavitt said, as the mathematician felt he was being "followed and hounded" by the police "because he was considered a security risk".
"There was this paranoid idea in 1950s England of the homosexual traitor, that he would be seduced by a Russian agent and go over to the other side," Leavitt said. "It was such a misjudgment of Alan Turing because he was so honest, and was so patriotic."
With the situation in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the recent decision by the supreme court in India to reinstate the criminalisation of homosexuality, "for this to come from the Queen, is going to send a really important message, especially to the Commonwealth", Leavitt added.Prof S Barry Cooper, professor of mathematical logic at the University of Leeds and chair of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee, said: "There was a slight worry that the private member's bill had got slightly bogged down. So this is fantastic. And a sign of the growing reputation of Alan Turing, a growing sense of what he did for this country and what so many other people at Bletchley Park did."
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, who introduced the private member's bill in the House of Lords, said: "This has demonstrated wisdom and compassion. It has recognised a very great British hero and made some amends for the cruelty and injustice with which Turing was treated.
"It's a wonderful thing, but we are not quite finished yet. I will continue to campaign for all those convicted as Turing was, simply for being gay, to have their convictions disregarded. That will be a proper and fitting and final end to the Turing story."
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the royal pardon was long overdue, but also due to "another 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the 20th century".
Though an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, Turing's mother and others maintained his death was accidental.
Turing made highly significant contributions to the emerging field of artificial intelligence and computing. After the war, he worked at many institutions, including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.
"Alan Turing's Body"
There's no command-Z for this great man's suffering.
December 26th, 2013
On Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned the computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing.
Nearly all of the modern world is constructed on Turing’s accomplishments. He helped crack Germany’s “Enigma” code in World War II, contributed two important proofs to mathematics, and established foundational concepts in computer science and artificial intelligence. Without him, the Allies might not have won the war, and you might not have a machine which can display this article.
Turing also had consensual sexual relations with other men, and, for them, was convicted for “gross indecency” under an 1885 criminal law. The queen pardoned him for these on Tuesday.
The pardon is written in a high royal celebratory register, which doesn’t match the somber tone which the events seem to deserve. I was surprised when, in the text of the pardon, I found something that almost constituted recursion, a building block of programming.
First, the formal document declares it intentions: “to pardon and remit unto [Turing] the sentence imposed upon him.”
Then, it turns the document into the pardon itself, and makes the pardon a reality: “And for so doing[,] this shall be a sufficient Warrant.”
The pardon executes, as a program would, and Alan Turing is forgiven.
Renaissance English royal law insists, mystically and metaphysically, that the king has two bodies.
Its theorists did so explicitly: “For the King has in him two Bodies, [namely] a Body natural, and a Body politic,” writes the jurist Edmund Plowden in 1571.
The king’s first body, the natural one, remains a “Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident.” The body politic, meanwhile, is everlasting, “consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People.” It is immutable, “utterly void of Infancy, and old Age.”
The body politic, most importantly, “cannot be seen or handled”; it’s invisible, passed down from reign to reign. The logic of the two bodies illuminates the cheer—“The King is dead; long live the King!”—and it led Elizabeth I to proclaim in her ascension speech, “I am but one body naturally considered, though by [God’s] permission a body politic to govern.”
Now the queen, the second named Elizabeth, has granted a rare royal pardon, the fourth during her reign. Usually only granted to those found innocent by investigation, Turing’s was extended at the request of the justice minister, Chris Grayling. Her “natural body” did not even lend its signature to the declaration: It is signed by Grayling.
When Turing was convicted for gross indecency, the British government forced him to choose between chemical castration and imprisonment; he chose castration, which meant taking estrogen pills. The pills made him impotent and grow breasts. They also depressed him.
Turing was used to eating an apple before bed. On June 7, 1954, he ate one that had purportedly been injected with cyanide, and he died. The local coroner’s office ruled his death a suicide; now, at least one expert doubts that ruling. Turing was 41.
The queen’s pardon follows a years-long attempts to excuse Turing through other legal means. In 2009, Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, apologized to him.
“I am very proud to say: we’re sorry,” Brown wrote in the Telegraph. “You deserved so much better.”
Last year, on Turing’s centenary, members of parliament introduced legislation to formally pardon him. It did not pass: Parliamentarians decided they could not pardon someone for a crime that person had knowingly committed, even if the government no longer considered the offending act criminal. As Brown wrote in 2009, Turing “was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can't put the clock back.” (After the pardon’s failure, 10,000 people promptly petitioned for Turing to be added to the £10 note.)
Now, Queen Elizabeth II has done what elected officials did not.
The “royal prerogative of mercy,” the formal title for a King or Queen’s pardon, is one of the central affordances of English royalty. Its language is old and pleonastic, comfortable in its somber power.
That makes it all the more stomach-turning to read. “Now Know Ye,” it reads, “that We, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented unto Us, are Graciously pleased to extend Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions.”
Perhaps this is standard language, but being “pleased to extend Our Grace and Mercy” feels inadequate in any register. Turing should be forgiven for nothing; he did nothing we’d consider criminal. If any entity requires pardoning, it’s the government. And yet the same government, in the body of its messenger, is pleased to excuse itself.
The pardon continues, becoming more and more magically legal. There is that recursion again: “And to pardon and remit unto him the sentence imposed upon him as aforesaid; And for so doing this shall be a sufficient Warrant.” The document only has to say the pardon exists, and it becomes real.
Addressing the question “Can machines think?”, Turing proposed a game. He called it “the Imitation Game,” and it goes like this: A human judge corresponds in writing with two unseen parties. One of the parties is human; the other is a machine. If the hidden human successfully convinces the judge of her humanity, the human wins. If the judge can’t tell which of the two is human, the machine wins.
If a machine can convince a human that it, too, is human, it has passed the famous “Turing test.”
The game turns on deception: The ability to act like a human, to perform humanity, supplants functioning like one. As Ian Bogost wrote last year on this website, the same concept drives Turing’s other great contribution to computer science—the universal computing machine. (Which is sometimes called the “Turing machine.”) Bogost writes:
In the form Turing proposed, this machine is a device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape. Through simple instructions like move forward, erase, write, and read, such a machine can enact any algorithm—and indeed, the design of modern CPUs is based directly on this principle.
Unlike other sorts of machines, the purpose of a Turing machine is not to carry out any specific task like grinding grain or stamping iron, but to simulate any other machine by carrying out its logic through programmed instructions. A computer, it turns out, is just a particular kind of machine that works by pretending to be another machine.
Code—whether the ciphers of an enemy or the programmatic commands of software—pretends. It pretends to generate random noise, perhaps, or it pretends to be a calculator. And since code pretends, it is pretend, and it can bring fantastic ideas to life, ideas like an accounting ledger that can also do math, ideas like a book that includes its own card catalog or an instantaneous way of sending mail.
Ideas like the queen’s second body.
“Code is law,” Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig observed before the turn of the century. Code is law and code is pretend and since it’s pretend we can take code back, we can command-Z or delete the instruction and write something better.
We can’t do the same for Turing’s pain. The instructions by which Turing suffered, executed by a body politic which he served, inflicted themselves on his human body and altered it. We can append to history but never emend it; we can’t take back Turing’s misery.
But there’s an upside to these pretending machines. In the strict domains of law and code, there is nothing but emulation. Pretend and pretend to something, and very soon you might ask what, exactly, you are pretending to be.
We can’t change Turing’s experience with a pardon. But his legacy mandates that we emulate, create, and codify humane and humble bodies politic, whether with law or with software, to steward and respect bodies natural.
According to Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson, 75,000 men were convicted under the same law as Turing, some 26,000 of whom are still alive. (The law was repealed in 1967.) We might start by pardoning, or apologizing to, all those other men.
In his poem for the nativity, For the Time Being, W.H. Auden describes “the natural world where / The occupation of space is the real and final act.” Turing’s suffering belongs to that world. But in these two domains where to say something makes it so, where, for so doing, language can be a sufficient warrant, we can still dream of new things to emulate—dreams that might be more expansive and yet more humble.
Forgiveness for Alan Turing by Stephen Hawking and others
Alan Turing pardoned