[Klug-general] Alan Turing Pardon Petition

James Blake jimmyblake at gmail.com
Tue Sep 1 11:47:42 UTC 2009

On 1 Sep 2009, at 12:08, AllenJB wrote:

> James Blake wrote:
>> On 1 Sep 2009, at 11:33, dan attwood wrote:
>>> Out of interest if you do suceed in getting a pardon for Turing,  
>>> what
>>> then? Who else do we then need to appologise to?
>>> I sometimes feel it seems fruitless making people apologise for the
>>> past, you can't change the past only learn from it and hope it  
>>> doesn't
>>> happen again
> Agreed
>> I think the whole point is for the recognition of what happened will,
>> hopefully, help educate people of today towards tolerance of others.
>> This is one way of reflecting back and drawing a line under it, until
>> then it remains a dark part of British history.
> Why does apologizing to a single person when hundreds probably met
> similar fates promote tolerance? Why should Turing get all the focus  
> in
> this particular matter?

Because the hundreds probably did not make the contribution to society  
that Turing did (but society on the whole doesn't know about the  
contributions for exactly the reasons outlined below).  I am not quite  
sure whether 'hundreds' made the same level of contribution to  
cracking (for instance) the Enigma code as Turing did and therefore  
stem the losses we were sustaining from U-boats which reopened our  
supply routes both from the US and into Europe and North Africa.  The  
cracking of the Enigma (and Fish) codes also allows the Allies to  
gauge whether the German's were aware of the plans for Operation  
Overlord, without this the D-Day landings may have been very different.

Not only his war effort, but also his work on the Universal Computer  
is the foundation of the shared-memory computer (along with von  
Neumann's work) on top of which we run Linux (!) and he was a  
fundamental contributor to the field artificial intelligence.

Turing needs to get the focus because he has been 'swept under the  
carpet' because of the way he was treated - there is nearly sixty  
years of focus to make up for.  We make heroes out of people like  
"bomber" Harris (who many consider a war criminal), but Turing takes a  

>> Also I think that the British government hasn't really been an
>> advocate for the very important role Turing played in artificial
>> intelligence, the development of the computer or his war effort.   
>> Part
>> of this is that it is trying to avoid the awkwardness of its role in
>> his death - by apologies it opens the possibility of the country
>> finally embracing one of its heroes.
> What exactly do you want the government to do? Start an advertising
> campaign to let people know what a cool dude Turing was? Write a
> biography and publish it for free?

Well at least include more about him in the history and computing  
syllabuses (which as you rightly point out leave a lot to be  
desired).  The government refused to support a statue for him at  
Bletchley Park, with a US billionaire having to foot the bill (to  
continue the contrast, a couple of years earlier a statue to "Bomber"  
Harris was put up in Aldwych.  The Queen Mother was surprised when the  
crowd booed as it was unveiled, it had to be guarded by police for the  
first few months as it was getting continually vandalised).

> (Completely ignoring the current governments complete failings in the
> areas of technology and education)
> How does the role of a past government, that probably virtually nobody
> knew about before this campaign started anyway

I think here you're making my point for me.  No-one knew of this  
shameful event, or indeed the contribution Turing made (for the  
reasons above).  Even if there is no apology people will at least know  
a little more about this brilliant man and the difference he made.

> , help the citizens of the
> country embrace one of many "heroes"? Why is Turing getting all the
> focus? While I don't know the details I highly doubt any single person
> was responsible for cracking enigma - from what I understand there  
> were
> vast teams of people involved in the activities of Bletchley Park.

Yes, vast teams of people were involved at Bletchley Park, I am  
heading there to the museum this weekend in fact to celebrate their  
contribution.  Most of these were involved in the day-to-day  
administration and operations of cracking codes, not the process of  
the creating the mechanisms to crack them.  It is rather like saying  
the Wright brothers didn't make much of a contribution to flight  
because "a lot of people work for Boeing".

Turing, along with Welchman, Alexander and Milner-Barry all worked on  
the cryptoanalysis of Enigma (they were known as 'The Wicked Uncles')  
but it was Turing, and Turing alone, who developed the bombe allowing  
for the automatic decryption of Enigma.

That is also not even taking into account his later work on the  
Manchester Mark 1 and the Automated Computing Engine, his work on  
artificial intelligence or indeed his breakthroughs in chemistry.

> Promoting the role of the women who worked there would, in my opinion,
> do the technology industry far more good in the long run than  
> promoting
> the work of a single person.

Women played a huge role in Bletchley, but due to the culture at the  
time none made a contribution to the cryptoanalysis ("nice girls  
didn't go to university").  The ironic thing is that massive inroads  
have been made with regards to this discrimination, but homosexuality  
wasn't legal until 1967 (I do have to point out at this time that I am  
not gay, but do support non-discrimination of any form).

But the campaign has less to do with the way homosexuals were treated  
and more to do with drawing a line under what lead him to kill himself  
so he can be properly recognised for his achievements.

> Or how about just the work of Bletchley Park as a whole? At least  
> when I
> was at school we were taught great swathes about the Germans and  
> Nazis,
> but virtually nothing about what happened in Britain in that era.

I totally agree, I was involved in the recent campaign to raise  
awareness of Bletchley Park to raise funds to save its historic  
buildings.  While we weren't able to gain government support, the rise  
in awareness was enough to raise a significant amount of money from  
people who hadn't realised quite how much of a contribution they made  
to the war effort.

>> An American billionaire had to pay for the statue of Turing at
>> Bletchley Park as the government wouldn't :(
> Frankly, I don't see why my taxes should be put towards creating a
> static statue that stands on a single point in the country for a  
> single
> dead person. I'd much rather they were put towards the benefit of
> current and future generations.

I (sort of) agree.  This whole campaign has raised the countries  
awareness of Turing and that is priceless.  A statue would be there  
for future generations, but people who go to Bletchley Park already  
typically know of Turing.  The result of the public support means now  
hundreds-of-thousands are now aware of Turing and his work, this is a  
much greater (and cheaper) achievement.

> This is of course ignoring the stupid amount of debt our government is
> currently in anyway.

**Nods sagely**

> AllenJB
>> Regards
>> James
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