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social sciences

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Turing, Alan (1912-1954)  
 
page: 1  2  

In Turing's test, the woman is then replaced by a computer. If the computer can convince the interrogator that it is a woman at the same rate as the real woman did, then the computer can be said to think. Researchers have argued about the importance of gender to Turing's thought experiment, and the relationship of his homosexuality to how he framed the question. What is striking, though, is that Turing replaced the metaphysical question of "Can machines think?" with a practical problem of whether or not a human might distinguish a computer from another human in a conversation.

Disaster

After pioneering in further work in computer and software design and in artificial intelligence, and after being honored for his war work with an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 1946 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951 at an unusually young age, in 1952 Turing's life took an abrupt turn for the worse.

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In 1948, Turing had accepted a position as Deputy Director of the Royal Society Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester and moved to that city, where he soon became involved with a young working class man, Murray Arnold, who would later burglarize his home.

After reporting the burglary, Turing was arrested and prosecuted for what was then known under British law as "Gross Indecency," a section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 (also known as the Labouchère Amendment), under which Oscar Wilde had also been charged in 1895.

Turing was offered a stark choice: go to prison or submit to the administration of the hormone estrogen. This procedure was known as "organo-therapy," a form of aversion therapy designed to destroy his sex drive. It was a type of chemical castration.

The administration of the female hormone left Turing impotent. He also developed breasts. Two years after his arrest, and one year after this coerced and barbaric "therapy," Alan Turing used cyanide to kill himself.

He left no note, and the circumstances of his death were inadequately investigated and perhaps left deliberately murky to spare his mother anguish. She believed his death to be accidental. Most commentators believe, however, that he committed suicide by eating an apple smeared with cyanide-laced jam.

If one doubted that a homophobic society and the supposedly "neutral" sciences used to enforce its prejudices and expectations can cause great harm, one need only examine Turing's death to understand its eagerness to punish its gay and lesbian members. Notwithstanding the fact that he may have been the most brilliant scientist of his generation, someone whose work in deciphering the German codes during World War II played a major role in achieving Allied victory, Turing was nevertheless sacrificed to the cold war hysteria over homosexuality.

Turing died on June 7, 1954.

Tyler Curtain

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    Bibliography
   

Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigma. New York: Walker and Company, 1983.

____. Turing. The Great Philosophers Series. Ray Monk and Frederic Raphael, consulting editors. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Prager, John. On Turing. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001.

Turing, Alan Mathison. The Collected Works of A. M. Turing. P. N. Furbank, General Editor. London: North-Holland, 1992.

www.turing.org.uk/turing/Turing.html.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Curtain, Tyler  
    Entry Title: Turing, Alan  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 16, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/turing_a.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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