By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2012 5:57 PM ET
The 100th birthday of the late Alan Turing, the gay British mathematician and computer theorist whose work decoding the infamous German Enigma machine is often credited with winning WWII, may have been overshadowed by Pride celebrations in the U.S. today but both Google and researchers in his native country didn't forget.
Today Google honored Turing, who died in 1954 and is often called the father of artificial intelligence, with an animated "Turning machine" Google doodle. A Turing machine, according to PC magazine's Damon Poeter, was not an actual computer but rather "a hypothetical one that still serves as a fundamental tool for understanding how algorithms, computer programming, and computing itself works." (Poeter included clips of Turing's 1948 essay "Intelligent Machinery" which explains this conceptual computer, a fascinating read for math geeks and gay history buffs for sure.)
Meanwhile, at a conference today in Oxford, England, professor Jack Copeland, an expert on Alan Turing, told surprised visitors that Turing's 1954 death was not a suicide, as has widely been assumed. According to a fascinating account in BBC News, Copeland questioned the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest into Turing's death, calling it insufficient to rule the death a suicide.
Turing died of cyanide poisoning and a half eaten apple was found near his bed. Legend goes that Turing was fascinated with the fairy tale of Snow White and poisoned himself with an apple to end the persecution he was getting for being gay. But Copeland argues that Turing ate an apple every night before bed (something others knew as well), the apple was never tested for cyanide, and there were no indications anywhere that Turing was anything less than upbeat and forward thinking. He even wrote a to-do list for the next week.
Knowing Turing's history might make it easy to understand suicide, wrote BBC's Roland Pease. After all, in 1952, after he had reported a burglary, the war hero was investigated for "acts of gross indecency" because he had had a male lover in his house. Instead of prison, Turing accepted what was called "chemical castration," essentially hormone treatment to suppress his sexual desire."
But, according to BBC News, Copeland argues that regardless of how horrendous that treatment was, by all accounts Turing took it in stride, often joking about his situation.
Still at the inquest, the coroner who claimed Turing's death a suicide, JAK Ferns, told participants, "In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next."