From: nelson@reed.edu (Nelson Minar)
Newsgroups: soc.motss,ca.politics
Subject: Re: Charles Turing's Untimely Death
Date: 8 Apr 92 09:33:55 GMT
Organization: Reed College, Portland, OR
In article <57025@cup.portal.com> Arthur_T_Hu@cup.portal.com writes:
>Anybody watch PBS "The Machine That Changed the World"? Says that
>Turing committed suicide over a trial for homosexuality. Also says
>that Eckert-Machley were put out of business by McCarthyism. They
>sure didn't teach us that at MIT when we learned about the history
>of computer architectures. Any other interesting stories out there?
There are hundreds of "interesting" stories like this, Arthur. Many of
them have been and are still being covered up by people
heterosexualizing world history. The Turing case happens to be a
special interest of mine because I am interested in math and computer
science, and Turing is arguably one of the more important
mathematicians of his century. He was killed by his government.
I'll give a little more of the story than PBS gave. You should read
the biography of Turing, "Alan Turing, the Enigma" by Andrew Hodges,
ISBN 0-671-49207-1. It's well researched and well written.
Turing's accomplishments are exceptionally notable in two areas:
cryptography and computer science-related math. In math, Turing proved
the theorem of "Universal Computation", basically a proof that a
simple abstract engine ("the Turing Machine") was capable of computing
a set of functions known as the 'computable functions'. Computability
theory is the cornerstone of computer science, and the abstraction of
the Turing machine is its framework. The very fact that you are reading
this message on a computer means you owe a lot to Turing.
Turing also invented the notion of the "Turing test", a first pass at
deciding on whether a given computer program has intelligence (based
on one's ability to converse with the machine). It is the basis for a
lot of discussion in both philosophy of mind and in artificial
intelligence.
In cryptography, the Allies owed a lot to Alan Turing for his work in
breaking the Enigma code, the major code the Germans were using during
World War II. He headed a group that deciphered the code. Turing was
personally a major help to the Allies efforts in defeating the Nazis.
Alan Turing was gay. He didn't particularly bother to hide it. In the
1950s the British government convicted him of the "crime" of
homosexuality and sentenced him to estrogen therapy to "cure" his
"disease". This was a common and brutal punishment in that decade.
The upset that the hormones caused his mind and body proved too
traumatic for Turing, and he took his own life.
The man helped his country in war. He was one of the most important
mathematical minds of the century. He was killed by bigotry.
There are lots of stories of this kind. Go look at some of the
electroshock therapy records from the 50s, people given massive jolts
of current to "cure" them of homosexuality. If you're interested in
statistics, look at the suicide rates for gay teenagers. Try to find
President Reagan's statements about AIDS. You'll have a hard time,
because our President didn't care: it was only faggots that were
dying. How about every person who is beaten or killed because they are
gay or lesbian? They are all "interesting" stories. All you have to do
is educate yourself.
You wonder why we're pissed?
--
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nelson@reed.edu \/ Love under will