Alan Turing: Too Little, Too Late

After the release of The Imitation Game in 2014, stories about computer genius Alan Turing were in the headlines for months. Now that homosexuality is no longer viewed, at least by most Western nations, as a mental illness or a criminal act, the suicide of a national hero due to persecution has proved to be a national embarrassment. At least one academic came forward to suggest that Turing’s death was in fact not a suicide caused by depression brought on by forced chemical castration, but an accident.  

This movie provided cause for celebration that so much progress has been made in terms of human rights for the global LGBT community. In the past, discrimination against gays was often rationalized and justified by the government on the grounds that they were more susceptible to blackmail.  Therefore, they were believed to be more likely to become spies.  However, no one ever questioned the fact that it was only the threat of social and legal persecution that even made this scenario possible.   

The same logic was applied to the concept of mixed-race marriages, which many people claimed were wrong on the grounds that children born to such a union would be mercilessly discriminated against and not fully accepted by either race.  Again, the logic stopped short of questioning the morality of being cruel to innocent children, but rather, accepted that premise as a given, as though people had no choice.   

Turing may well have done more than anyone else to change the course of history.  In addition to designing the world’s first commercial computer, his work was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code used by German forces during the war.  Unlike theories offered by probability experts offering imaginary statistics regarding hypothetical scenarios about the number of lives potentially saved by dropping the atom bomb, the invention of the modern computer has changed the world.  Those changes are quantifiable and have been overwhelmingly for the better. 

Through the Internet and social media like Twitter, people from all over the world are able to communicate directly.  This has reduced the influence of dehumanizing propaganda that seeks to simultaneously incite and justify war as a viable solution to political conflicts.  Ordinary citizens, armed with smart phones, are now able to serve as investigative journalists who present alternative views to those presented by corporate media, and which often reflect reality more accurately.  One example of this kind of citizen journalism is that of the video of police officer Michael Slager shooting an unarmed Walter Scott in the back five times as he fled.  The video completely contradicted the corporate/government media’s initial account of the event. 

The power of the Internet to expose corruption and encourage communication between individuals who have been traditionally separated by race, economics, or geography has the potential to unite humanity to a degree never before possible. It is exactly to that degree that our survival as a species now depends. However, depending upon who controls it, the Internet also has the potential to further divide and enslave the world. Ironically, since the world has gone online, the ability to crack codes has proved to be a double-edged sword.  Today, corporations are vulnerable to financial attack as well as corporate espionage. 

I read this morning on Twitter that the British are going to put Alan Turing’s likeness on the 50 pound note, an act which is considered a great honor. Governments and corporations are finally showing evidence that they’ve learned a lesson from the death of Alan Turing, which was the result of persecution and the politics of cruelty.  But it seems that the lesson may have been learned too late. Today’s geniuses are less apt to want to contribute their talents to repressive governments or exploitative corporations in exchange for fame and fortune. Donald Trump is the new global example of fame, fortune and self-proclaimed genius– sans humanity. The real geniuses of today are much less likely to find the status quo worth preserving–and much more likely to want to remain Anonymous.

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