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A brief aside

A brief aside

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I’d like to take a brief break from discussion SharePoint and Office to talk about something else which means a lot to me.

Last month, the UK government offered a formal apology for the inhumane treatment of Alan Turing.

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician and one of the founders of modern computing. In university, even now, computer science students will learn about Turing machines in connection to the theory of what is computable. He first defined these machines in a mathematical paper in 1936, well before the age of PCs (the paper’s actually a very dull read, but I’ve got a nice book which annotates and explains the paper).

He’s perhaps most famous for his work cracking the Enigma code during World War Two. Along with many other talented mathematicians, he worked at Bletchley Park breaking German ciphers. He designed a machine, the bombe, which enabled the British to break the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code. In many ways, this could be considered to be the first real computer.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he did some theoretical work on artificial intelligence. He proposed a theoretical experiment known as the Turing test to determine a standard for an intelligent machine. Despite all his work on this field, the quote I remember is one which he wrote in a letter, believing it would be used as a proof against his work:

Alan Turing believes machines think. Alan Turing lies with men. Therefore machines do not think.

In 1952, Turing was convicted for gross indecency. Basically, he was tried for being gay. As a result, he was chemically castrated, victimised and banned from his cryptography work. He committed suicide a couple of years later.

I think it’s a fantastic thing that Gordon Brown has issued his apology. I just wish the apology could have come 55 years earlier.

Alan Turing is one of my personal heroes and I have giving him a hug quite high on my list of things to do if I ever get a time machine.

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  • Alan Turing is one of my heroes as well. I did not know of his mistreatment. Thank you for enlightening me. I am pleased the government finally did the right thing.