Surviving the World

A Photocomic Education by Dante Shepherd

Lesson #1431 - Alan Turing

Alan Turing would have turned 100 years old today. At the beginning of the year, I said that we should recognize today each year as a holiday, to remind us of both the heights that man can achieve and of the depths that man can commit. And today's the day we should raise our glasses in memory, in celebration, and in contemplation.

There may be other figures throughout history who would also be good representations of both sides of man, but Turing is particularly strong - he was the father of computer science and artifical intelligence, provided significant intital direction towards the development of the computer, helped decypher and break Nazi codes during World War II, and was generally a mathematical genius. What he could envision served as major guidance to future work as the material and processing capabilities would eventually catch up to his intellect.

And then when he was discovered to be gay, he was convicted of indecency, was forced to undergo chemical castration, and was dead of suicide just two years later at the age of 41. The man was a hero, and this is how society treated him because he was different.

There is an excellent Radiolab piece on Alan Turing that was aired recently. I strongly recommend you listen to it if you have not already.

I don't think it's right to view his birthday in solely a celebratory or somber tone. I do think Alan Turing is a truly inspirational figure, reminding us that mankind is capable of such greatness, that we should not allow our intellectual creativity to be limited by the capabilities of our time, that what we envision may someday be of such significance that what are only our dreams were extraordinary guides for the future. And I do think Turing should inspire us to greater respect and acceptance of all, to step up and stop travesties before they can occur.

So here's to you, Dr. Turing. And here's to us.