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Pardon Turing Say Leading Scientific Figures

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A number of leading scientific figures, including Professor Stephen Hawking and Sir Paul Nurse (both Science Museum Fellows), have called on the Prime Minister to posthumously pardon British mathematician and codebreaker, Alan Turing, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph published this morning.

Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954, following a conviction for gross indecency during a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK.

Alan Turing

A Portrait of Alan Turing from the National Physical Laboratory archive

The letter – written by Lord Grade of Yarmouth and signed by two other Science Museum Trustees Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Dr Douglas Gurr – describes the Turing as “one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era”, and pays tribute to his efforts in deciphering the Enigma code and advancing computing:

We urge the Prime Minister to exercise his authority and formally forgive this iconic British hero to whom we owe so much as a nation and whose pioneering contribution to computer sciences remains relevant even today.

The Science Museum is currently celebrating the centenary of Turing’s birth, telling the story of this pioneering British figure, his life and legacy, through a new exhibition sponsored by Google. Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy beings with a look at Turing’s best known work, deciphering the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

German Enigma machine

The secret Enigma codebreaking work was carried out by Turing and colleagues at Bletchley Park during the Second World War

However, Alan Turing was not just a codebreaker, and the exhibition details Turing’s life and legacy as a philosopher and computing pioneer as well. His ideas helped shape the modern world, from aircraft design to early computer programming and artificial intelligence.

Pilot ACE

Pilot ACE is one of Britain’s earliest stored program computers and the oldest complete general purpose electronic computer in Britain.

At the heart of the exhibition is Pilot ACE  (Automatic Computing Engine). One of the first electronic ‘universal’ computers, Turing was responsible for its fundamental design, writing the specification in 1945. Pilot ACE remains the most significant surviving Turing artefact in the world.

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Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy showcases Turing’s breadth of talent, offering an informative retrospective view of one of Britain’s greatest twentieth-century thinkers.

Written by Will Stanley