December 26, 2013
Alan Turing’s Body

On Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned the computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing.
Nearly all of the modern world is constructed on Turing’s accomplishments. He helped crack Germany’s “Enigma” code in World War II, contributed two important proofs to mathematics, and established foundational concepts in computer science and artificial intelligence. Without him, the Allies might not have won the war, and you might not have a machine which can display this article.
Turing also had consensual sexual relations with other men, and, for them, was convicted for “gross indecency” under an 1885 criminal law. The queen pardoned him for these on Tuesday.
The pardon is written in a high royal celebratory register, which doesn’t match the somber tone which the events seem to deserve.  I was surprised when, in the text of the pardon, I found something that almost constituted recursion, a building block of programming.
First, the formal document declares it intentions: “to pardon and remit unto [Turing] the sentence imposed upon him.”
Then, it turns the document into the pardon itself, and makes the pardon a reality: “And for so doing[,] this shall be a sufficient Warrant.”
The pardon executes, as a program would, and Alan Turing is forgiven.
Read more. [Image: Jon Callas/Flickr]

Alan Turing’s Body

On Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II pardoned the computer scientist Alan Mathison Turing.

Nearly all of the modern world is constructed on Turing’s accomplishments. He helped crack Germany’s “Enigma” code in World War II, contributed two important proofs to mathematics, and established foundational concepts in computer science and artificial intelligence. Without him, the Allies might not have won the war, and you might not have a machine which can display this article.

Turing also had consensual sexual relations with other men, and, for them, was convicted for “gross indecency” under an 1885 criminal law. The queen pardoned him for these on Tuesday.

The pardon is written in a high royal celebratory register, which doesn’t match the somber tone which the events seem to deserve.  I was surprised when, in the text of the pardon, I found something that almost constituted recursion, a building block of programming.

First, the formal document declares it intentions: “to pardon and remit unto [Turing] the sentence imposed upon him.”

Then, it turns the document into the pardon itself, and makes the pardon a reality: “And for so doing[,] this shall be a sufficient Warrant.”

The pardon executes, as a program would, and Alan Turing is forgiven.

Read more. [Image: Jon Callas/Flickr]

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