Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Alan Turing Finally Got a Posthumous Apology

This is an inspiring story about a long-ago wrong finally being made right. It's also a wonderful modern-day tale about a single person's efforts to make sure the right thing gets done. And it's a great story about just how valuable and powerful a tool social media can be for making change happen.

I tweeted a link to this story earlier this morning but I thought that it deserved a blog post too, especially for those of you that aren't using Twitter.

Alan Turing is a legend in the programming community, especially among cryptographers. But he was also gay and he paid a steep price for it, as the story notes:
Alan Turing did three amazing things in his working life: he laid the foundations of computer science by thinking up a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine, he worked through the Second World War breaking Nazi German codes, and after the war he worked on artificial intelligence and defined the Turing Test. His life was cut short at 41 when he had begun to work on morphogenesis in plants.

Alan Turing was also gay and he was prosecuted for "gross indecency" (essentially being gay) in 1952. To avoid prison he agreed to be injected with female hormones as a sort of 'cure' for homosexuality. Two years after his prosecution he was dead: he killed himself by eating an apple dipped in potassium cyanide.
In this post, John Graham-Cumming tells the story of how he used the British Government's online petition tool to generate enough public interest to end up with a formal apology from the Prime Minister.

It's a great story. Here's the link.

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