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Alan Turing’s Story Could Be Rebooted By Calls to Pardon Late Computer Legend

By The Washington Post

September 20, 2013

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Computing pioneer Alan Turing was convicted of homosexuality after World War II and later committed suicide. However, more than 50 years after his death and following global strides in gay rights, a movement is cresting to reboot the record of the British mathematician's short but impactful life.

Responding to a campaign by laureates, the British Parliament is moving toward granting Turing a posthumous pardon. However, opponents argue that a pardon could lead to an influx of petitions from families of other deceased convicts whose punishments in their day now seem barbaric.

Turing's reputation preceded him in academic circles, even after the scandal of his conviction and subsequent death. His 1936 paper "On Computable Numbers" outlined the theory of a Universal Machine, a device that some scholars now call the conceptual predecessor of program-based computers. In the 1940s, Turing outlined what was arguably the first realizable design for a modern computer, and in 1950, he propagated an early concept of artificial intelligence.

"As one of his colleagues once said, it was a very good thing that the government didn't know that Turing was a homosexual during the war, because if they found out, they would have sacked him and we would have lost," says Lord John Sharkey, sponsor of the Turing pardon in Britain's upper house.

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