A jubilee that matters

Britain, mired in recession, has just been through the first part of a bread-and-circuses summer, a royal jubilee (the second part – Euro 2012 – is on now and the third, the Olympics, is to follow shortly).

This is not the place to debate the monarchy, though there is one undisputed fact here – Elizabeth II is not sovereign through merit, merely by birth.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing (Photo credit: kberberi)

In the middle of all this, on 23 June, we will reach the centenary of someone who made a real, positive and lasting difference to the lives of practically every living human being – Alan Turing.

If one man could be said to have “won the Second World War” then that man is Turing, as his insights into cryptanalysis, founded on his working on computable numbers, made victory in the Atlantic possible, as well as ensuring (admittedly generally by spy networks) the Soviets were forewarned of major Nazi attacks (even those they  chosen to ignore, such as ‘Barbarossa’ itself).

Without victory in the Atlantic Britain (and Ireland with it) would have starved and likely have been starved into submission. The consequences of that are too grim to contemplate.

Turing was persecuted after the war because he was gay. Deprived of the opportunity to contribute further to a country he was obviously deeply patriotic about because he was deemed a “security risk” he took his own life.

Perhaps he might have lived to see his century out if that had not happened? Either way his centenary deserves rather more recognition than it is getting.

(I cannot let this opportunity pass to once again recommend The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing’s Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine – if you are interested at all in Turing’s ideas and have a maths ‘A’ level or better then you really should regard this as an essential part of your education.)