Under a little known law, Queen Elizabeth II has pardoned Alan Turing, the computer and math whiz who helped break German code. It’s a posthumous move — Turing died nearly 61 years ago.

Alan Turing

The Queen of England has pardoned Alan Turing, the math and computer genius, 60-some years after he took his life. Turing, who was gay, was convicted of committing “gross indecency” and accepted chemical castration instead of going to prison. In 1952, he apparently committed suicide, although details of his death are in dispute.

It was a tragic end for a man who is credited with shortening the course of World War II with his work for British intelligence at Bletchley Park breaking Nazi German codes.

To call Turing a founder of modern computing is not an exaggeration. Here’s how Gigaom described one of Turing’s key contributions, the Turing Machine:

It’s a theoretical computer running programs that operate on data. It has an infinitely long paper tape on which it stores information. The tape is divided up into cells: each cell can be empty or can have a symbol in it. The machine reads the symbol from the current cell and decides what to do next. It can change the symbol in the current cell, or move the tape left or right by one cell…

But although it is extremely simple, this machine is capable of running a surprisingly large number of programs. In fact, Turing showed that any and every result that could be computed at all could be computed by a Turing Machine.

The A.M. Turing Award remains one of the loftiest honors in computing.


Note: This story was updated at 7:09 p.m. PST to reflect that there is doubt about whether Turing commited suicide.

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  1. Reblogged this on Baldbiker and commented:
    He was a genius, this was the least that they could do. I hope in the future more can be done to celebrate his contribution.

    1. agreed. a lot of bad mojo in this story.

  2. It’s not clear that he committed suicide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing#Death

    1. oh yes. i remember that now. thanks for the note. will tweak

  3. does it matter? it is … now. the infinite nature of energy was likely not lost on him and i can understand his choice, can’t you? If you thought about yourself as an infinite being vs. going to prison and being beaten daily likely back in those days, maybe electro-shock and al that jazz. he was a smart man, and most likely he thought he made the right decision. <3 that through legacy, his short life has been redeemed for our sake, perhaps we can find our own collective healing through this one person's life as he represents so many who are unnamed and unknown.

  4. There is no such person as the “Queen of England” – do you mean the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? You can use the acceptable shorter form of “Queen of the United Kingdom” if the longer title is too much.

  5. Duncan Johnston-Watt Tuesday, December 24, 2013

    It is a disgrace that it took us so long and that parliament didn’t resolve this when it had the opportunity to do so to coincide with celebrating the centenary of his birth.

    For more background http://www.theguardian.com/uk/the-northerner/2012/jul/25/alan-turing-private-members-bill-lord-sharkey

  6. The timing on these thing are impeccable. It’s as though some influential techies got a early Christmas gift and its not so much about Alan Turing him-self.

  7. It’s about time and a nice gift to his admirers. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Why did she work 216 hours that month. 16438 divide by 76 is 216 hours.


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