Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Famous Nerds In Computer Science: Alan Turing

It isn't too uncommon to find these images of captchas on websites we visit anymore these days, where it is frequently used to identify humans from computer bot spammers. Captcha is actually an acronym for 'Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart', it's name derived from one of the most prominent computer scientists of our time, Alan Turing.

Alan Turing (1912-1954) is one of the founding fathers of computer science, who devised the Turing Machine, the superset of all computers that we have today, and the Turing Test, an Artificial Intelligence test which remains the ultimate goal of computing research till this day.

In his life, he had played a major part in helping the British crack the encryption ciphers of the Enigma machine used by the Germans in WW2, and was considered as a war hero for his efforts. Amid his achievements in life, it was however cut short by the fact that he was gay, where in those days, private homosexual acts were illegal by law.

Alan was prosecuted and subsequently convicted, and also had his access to his code breaking work rescinded of because of his criminal charges. He was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment in order to avoid jail time, which involved injecting himself with female hormones to control his sexual urges.

At the age of 41, Alan Turing committed suicide, by consuming a poisoned apple laced with cyanide.

13 years after his death, Britain decriminalized the law in 1967.

It is sad to see a great contributor to society come to such an end to his life just because his alternative lifestyle do not conform with society norms. This story is a reminder that being different from us, does not necessarily mean that they are wrong, and that we should not be closed up in terms of our thinking, for every time society snuffs out a brilliant person just because of their differences, we will only take a step backwards in terms of progress as a civilization.


This entry is written in conjunction with Indignation, a gay pride event held in Singapore, and also in response to Nominated Minister of Parliament Siew Kum Hong's article for speaking up against Section 377A of the Penal Code. As a heterosexual individual, I share NMP Siew's views, and supports the repealing of Section 377A.

Also, 9th August is Singapore's National Day, so I wish all Singaporeans a Happy Holiday!

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