Code-Breaker Turing Posthumously Pardoned Over Gay Sex

Alan Turing, the British computer pioneer whose code-breaking work helped the Allies win World War II, has been posthumously granted a royal pardon for his 1952 conviction for indecency over a homosexual relationship.

Turing was 27 when, at the outbreak of World War II, he reported to Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking headquarters northwest of London. There he was responsible for a series of breakthroughs that allowed the cracking of the German Enigma code, allowing the Allies to read all the Nazis’ communications.

After the war, Turing became a consultant to Government Communications Headquarters, the successor to Bletchley Park. In 1952, he told police about a gay relationship while reporting a burglary and found himself on trial. He underwent chemical castration and lost his security clearance. Two years later he poisoned himself with cyanide.

“Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind,” Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said in a statement today, announcing the pardon. “His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed. Dr. Turing deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science.”

In 1936, at age 23, Turing submitted a paper describing the concept of a theoretical computer that would become known as a “Turing Machine.” In 1950, he proposed a way to judge whether a computer had achieved artificial intelligence, the “Turing Test.” Both ideas formed the foundations of their disciplines.

Turing was named by Time magazine in 1999 as one of its 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Royal pardons are exceptional in the U.K., with only three granted in recent years, according to the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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