Monday, August 17, 2009
Alan Turing, “father of computer science,” mathematician, philosopher, visionary and hero who helped win World War II by breaking the Nazi code, has been a major and positive force in shaping our modern life and the future; yet few people know of his enormous and rightful place in history. Why? Because Alan Turing was a homosexual (androphilic) man and he died young by suicide. Now there is a campaign in the United Kingdom to recognize Alan Turing as a genius and a hero and to apologize for the horrific discrimination he endured as a British citizen because he was gay and that no doubt contributed to his suicide.
But Alan Turing deserves to be celebrated around the planet, not just in the United Kingdom. Alan Turing’s accomplishments as a scientist, great thinker, and military hero have benefited all of humanity; thus he is a global hero and should be known and celebrated around the world. Over the years that I have been in American academia, I have observed to my dismay that many computer science students don’t know anything about Alan Turing. This is like a physics student not knowing about Isaac Newton! American students should be taught about Alan Turing in their computer science, math, philosophy and history classes. And they should be taught how Alan Turing died and how all humanity has lost so much due to prejudice.
We will never know what other incredible achievements Alan Turing would have given the world had he been celebrated rather than persecuted for being gay. The same innate brain difference that made Alan Turing a gay man may well have been a factor leading to his genius. We suffer when we punish diversity. The world destroyed a genius and a hero. The whole world lost. Homophobia is a cultural disorder!