Have you ever wondered how the field of computer science would be different if Alan Turing was still alive? Would we know whether P=NP? What other advances might we have made?
Sadly, we will never know because Alan Turing committed suicide at the age of 41. He was gay, and had the misfortune to live in a time in Britain where this was illegal. After being prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952, he chose to take an experimental hormone treatment instead of emprisonment. He fell into despair and poisoned himself in 1954. Britain’s greatest computer scientist, code-breaking war hero, and recipient of an OBE, was reduced to desperation by the very counry he served so well.
There is some controvery at the moment in the UK about an e-petition which has been lodged with the prime minster’s office about the prosecution of Alan Turing. The author of the petition John Cumming, writes "The British Government should apologize to Alan Turing for his treatment and recognize that his work created much of the world we live in and saved us from Nazi Germany. And an apology would recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man’s life and career." The controversy relates to some people’s perception that this is part of a "gay agenda" or political-correctness-gone-mad. John Cumming says this is not his intention, and while he recognises that it unlikey that an apology will be made, he wanted to have Turing’s contribution honoured. He suggests that an appropriate way to do this would be for the government to contribute to the upkeep of Bletchly Park and the Nation Musuem of Computing, both of which are amazing, important places which currently have no government support.
Only British citizens can sign the petition, which you can find here. If you feel strongly about it but are not British you could always send a letter of support to 10 Downing Street. At the time of writing, 4609 people have signed up.