Alan Turing
Image by Whimsical Chris via Flickr

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has apologized on behalf of the British government for the appalling treatment of Alan Turing, who was obliged to undergo chemical castration for the crime of being gay. Prime Minister Brown’s statement in the Telegraph follows an online petition drive that enlisted over 30,000 British citizens and residents, and a follow-on global petition with over 10,000 signatories worldwide.

Much has been made in the discussions surrounding the petition efforts and in the Prime Minister’s statement of Turing’s code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park, which directly contributed to the allied victory in World War II. Less mentioned, but also central to his legacy, are Turing’s seminal contributions to computer science. It is no exaggeration to say that Alan Turing was the progenitor of computer science, in his brief career providing building the foundation of theory, hardware, systems, artificial intelligence, even computational biology. His death at 42 as a result of the British government’s misguided “therapy” constitutes one of the great intellectual tragedies of the twentieth century. I commend Prime Minister Brown for his prompt and complete apology.

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