Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1997

The Alan Turing Website

by Brett Humphreys

Alan Turing, pioneer of computer science, known among other things for his vital wartime role in breaking the Enigma code used by the German U-boats, was openly atheist and gay at a time when this was rather exceptional, and he might well have become associated with GALHA in later life but for his premature death by suicide in 1954. Turing’s significance, however, has been kept well alive by Andrew Hodges, originally through his biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, still on sale, which was the subject of a talk he gave in 1985 to the Gay Humanist Group (as GALHA was then called) in the series Lesbians and Gays in the Humanist Tradition, and now more recently also by creating and cultivating this website, currently of twenty-odd pages, dedicated to Alan Turing.

The site consists mainly of a short biography supplemented by a more extensive and less formal “Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook”, which includes numerous photographs and other images, as well as links to other related material on the Web. It even contains a working simulation of a Turing Machine, written in Java (the programming language, not the island). An amusing anecdote from a page about the Turing Test (in which a computer program tries to impersonate a human): “Saying I [Andrew Hodges] was a gay teenager, I asked how to find a boyfriend and got an all-purpose answer including ‘Go to church.’ I said, ‘But churches are anti-gay,’ and it said ‘I cannot answer that.’ After that it kept on repeating itself...”. Alan Turing predicted in 1950 that by around the end of the century a machine would be able to pass a limited version of the imitation test but, unless we restrict it to fundamentalist doorsteppers, it looks as though there is still quite a long way to go!

The Alan Turing Website is in fact a part of Andrew Hodges’ own website, which also includes professional and personal information (he lists “star signs” and “belief in one or more Gods” among the things he is “socially challenged” by), and the complete text of the long out-of-print gay liberation pamphlet With Downcast Gays, which he co-authored with David Hutter in 1974. Worth visiting.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-01-31 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :