Too little too late? Alan Turing gets posthumous pardon

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.