Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Outcry over Govt rejection of Alan Turing Pardon

Alan Turing age 5
Yesterday I blogged the news that the UK Justice Minister had rejection a motion to consider a pardon for Alan Turing. As the news has crossed the globe and tweeters and bloggers have taken it in, there has been a considerable outcry from around the world at what seems like an attempt by the UK government to preempt a debate on the issue. The UK Guardian newspaper today carries a good article on the subject, which quotes American mathematician Dennis Hejhal deploring the government's use of precedent to defend the decision. 

"I see that the House of Lords rejected the
pardon Feb 6 on what are formal grounds.

If law is X on date D, and you knowingly
break law X on date D, then you cannot be
pardoned (no matter how wrong or flawed
law X is).

The real reason is OBVIOUS. they do not
want thousands of old men saying pardon us
too. I hope there is an appropriate hullabaloo
in the UK."

The use of logic in this way echoes how Turing himself thought about his conviction. In a letter to a friend after his conviction he wrote that people would now think:

"Turing believes machines think,
Turing lies with men,
Therefore machines do not think."

 So it seems that Turing maintained a sense of humour about the way he was being treated and the effect it would have on his legacy. The Turing Century blog makes the point that the infamous pirate Blackbeard amongst other criminals have received pardons so why not Turing?


  1. How about an apology from the Church of England? Turing was chemically castrated and driven to suicide by the religious bigots of his day:

  2. Well it's certainly an interesting point that the tragic death of Christopher Morcom led Turing to believe that the mind could exist outside of the body, perhaps even in a machine, which helped his views on machine intelligence.
    Unfortunately the CoE is so confused over homosexuality I doubt they'll want the publicity.