Queen Elizabeth II granted a rare “mercy pardon” Monday to Alan Turing, the computing and mathematics pioneer whose chemical castration for being gay drove him to suicide almost 60 years ago.
Turing was one of the leading scientific geniuses of the 20th century — the man who cracked the supposedly uncrackable Enigma code used by Nazi Germany in World War II and the man many scholars consider the father of modern computer science.
By the time he was 23, Turing had hypothesized what would become today’s computers — the Turing machine, which could emulate any computing device or program. Almost 80 years later, Turing machines are still used in theoretical computation.
In 1950, Turing came up with the famous Turing Test to determine whether a computer can be considered to have attained artificial intelligence.
But Turing was also gay at a time when that was a crime in Britain, and instead of being hailed as one of the crucial figures in defeating the Nazis, he was convicted of “gross indecency” in 1952 for having had sex with a man.
His security clearance was revoked, he was barred from working for the government and he was chemically castrated with massive injections of female hormones. Less than two years later, in 1954, he killed himself with cyanide, an inquest found. He was just 41 years old.