2012 has been announced as the Alan Turing Year. Next Saturday, 23 June, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Mathieson Turing. There have already been various events to mark the anniversary – on radio and television, and there will be a conference on Turing in Manchester this weekend. Turing was a mathematician, a very good one, possibly a genius – but nevertheless, most mathematicians don’t get this kind of celebrity treatment.
Turing’s fame depends on 2 periods of his life:
Firstly, during World War II, he led the team of cryptographers at Bletchley Park who cracked the German Enigma Code, thereby (according to Winston Churchill) shortening the war by 2 years.
Secondly, in 1952, the Manchester police charged him with ‘gross indecency’ for a consensual homosexual act. He was given the choice of imprisonment, or a series of compulsory injections of oestrogen to cause ‘chemical castration’. He chose the latter, but he was found dead 2 years later, having apparently eaten cyanide smeared on an apple. There was no suicide note, and his mother never accepted it, but the general consensus is that he killed himself.
So there you have it. Two evocative stories of triumph and tragedy, and Turing, a shy and awkward nerd who stuttered and chewed his fingernails, emerges as a hero and a reluctant gay icon.