Sunday, February 11, 2018

Readers Write and More About Alan Turing


It wasn’t long after I posted yesterday’s Bytes that I received two emails commenting on the sad end of Alan Turing, Bletchley Park codebreaker and computer science expert. 

From Maria B:
Hello Otto
War does make for strange bed partners…..
What a shame about Turing, his mind was so far ahead of its time….shame we can’t say the same for the law of the time (small mindless and of course they were scared that they too might ‘catch’ the disease!!)
Oh well….
Thank you, I’m really enjoying all the Bytes..
Love Maria
Thanks, Maria.

From David B:
There is a statue of Alan Turing in Manchester which shows him contemplating an apple: 

From what I have read, including an early biography by his mother, Sarah, I am convinced that his death was an accident. The idea of someone as slapdash and careless as Alan handling cyanide was an accident waiting to happen. 
When he arrived at Manchester after the war, Frank Williams and Dai Edwards who were engaged on the design of the first Manchester computer refused to take him seriously because he appeared to have no practical experience, the Official Secrets Act preventing him from telling them about his work at Bletchley Park.
(Manchester was my Alma Mater and I worked under Edwards in the early seventies on the design of the MU5 computer).
There is also a street in Manchester named Alan Turing Way.
Thanks, David.

From Wikipedia, in relation to Turing’s death (my bulletpointing):
  • On 8 June 1954, Turing's housekeeper found him dead. He had died the previous day. 
  • A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it was speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was consumed. 
  • An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954.Turing's ashes were scattered there, just as his father's had been. 
  • Andrew Hodges and another biographer, David Leavitt, have both suggested that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), his favourite fairy tale, both noting that (in Leavitt's words) he took "an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew."
  • Philosophy professor Jack Copeland has questioned various aspects of the coroner's historical verdict. He suggests an alternative explanation for the cause of Turing's death, this being the accidental inhalation of cyanide fumes from an apparatus for electroplating gold onto spoons, which uses potassium cyanide to dissolve the gold. Turing had such an apparatus set up in his tiny spare room. Copeland notes that the autopsy findings were more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion of the poison. Turing also habitually ate an apple before bed, and it was not unusual for it to be discarded half-eaten.
  • In addition, Turing had reportedly borne his legal setbacks and hormone treatment (which had been discontinued a year previously) "with good humour" and had shown no sign of despondency prior to his death, even setting down a list of tasks he intended to complete upon return to his office after the holiday weekend.
  • Turing's mother believed that the ingestion was accidental, resulting from her son's careless storage of laboratory chemicals.
  • Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests Turing arranged the delivery of the equipment to deliberately allow his mother plausible deniability regarding any suicide claims.
Another interesting fact concerning Turing:

Turing liked to run marathon distances and ultra marathons, by himself and not competitively. On a couple of occasions he ran past an athletic club training run, leaving them open mouthed. He was invited to join the club and became their best runner. Turing came fourth in the AAA marathon which was used as a qualifying event for the 1949 Olympic games. His time was 2 hours 46.03 minutes which by modern marathon times does not look so great but was good at that time. To put it in perspective, the winning Olympic time was only 10 minutes better at the 1948 Olympics. A leg injury put an end to further serious running by Turing. Asked by the club president on one occasion why he punished himself so much in training, Turing replied "I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard; it’s the only way I can get some release."


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