What I Learnt From… Alan Turing

A few years ago I picked a friend up from a train station after she got back from holiday.  We went back to her flat which, at the time, I think I’d spent more time living in just by feeding her cat than she had, given that she “moved in” barely hours before departing on adventures.

We sat on the floor and ate Chinese while watching The Imitation Game, a film about Alan Turing.  For what it’s worth, I found the film entertaining enough although it contains many an historical inaccuracy.  Despite the problems with the film, Turing’s story left an impression on me.

I’m not sure I can give a more detailed or accurate story of who Turing is that Wikipedia.  If I some it up in three lines, I’d say that he was a computer genius thought of as being the father behind some of today’s major technology.  His codebreaking work during World War 2 is estimated to have shortened the war by around 2 years saving 14 million lives.  He was arrested in 1952 for “gross indecency” for being homosexual and supposedly committed suicide as a result.

I was in Manchester the other day and walking by the Turing Memorial.  It reminded me of something.

I realise how important it is in the scheme of things but, just for the moment, strip out of the story what Turing was arrested for.  We’ll come back to it later.  Now ask this question – to what extent should previous good deeds, skills, conduct or achievements affect a present day wrong?

Legally speaking, a wrong is a wrong and the legal system should not suggest otherwise.  However, once the Law has found guilt, the scales of justice can be rebalanced under the weight and influence of the past.  Someone who repeatedly steals should be punished.  Someone who stole once but had previous good character might benefit from a different style of punishment, for example, which might also limit the severity of said punishment.

Outside of the law, I also believe that past history should carry some weight towards present day decisions.  Bringing the “gross indecency” accusation back in, irrespective of one’s views on homosexuality I find it hard to believe that anyone would not choose to show leniency to a man who achieved so much for the greater good because of what he did in his private life.

That’s what I learnt from Alan Turing – to judge a situation on its own merits, with one of those merits being the balance of previous events.


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