Wednesday 17 July 2019 5:38 am

Now he's the face of the £50 note, let's look at the enduring genius of Alan Turing

Benedict Spence is a freelance writer. He is on Twitter @BenedictSpence

I cannot think of a man more deserving of commemoration by this nation than Alan Turing.

It is enlivening that, in an era so dominated by differing ideals of what and who our society should champion, riven by irreconcilable divisions deep within our cultural psyche, such a man might have existed who could bridge at least some of them.

Turing struggled with autism, making him deeply antisocial. 

His speech was impeded, and his ability to write was barely passable. Yet he was one of the greatest minds ever to have sprung forth from the bowels of this sceptered isle.

It was he and his team whose peerless work helped crack the language that no one else could – the ever-shifting code of the Wehrmacht’s Enigma machine. He is an example of the value of those with learning disabilities, of the socially awkward and inept. 

Turing was a homosexual in a world that did not accept homosexuals. He suffered greatly for this crime, enduring public condemnation, humiliation, chemical castration, and eventually suicide. He was an outcast. 

He was, to the state, a pervert, convicted of indecency. He is an example of the persecuted and the victimised minorities of this nation’s past and present – the ordinary people trampled underfoot for the sin of being who they were born to be.

Turing was a visionary whom very few people understood. He worked in mathematics and mechanics that most failed to appreciate, let alone understand. Decades before the first tech startups of Silicon Valley, he was conceiving the beginnings of what would one day become artificial intelligence. 

Without him, the modern world, furnished with the creations of man’s genius, would be very different indeed.

It would be different, of course, beyond just the computers, phones, chips and signals we rely upon every day. 

Turing was no great character, no orator, no brilliant political mind, no military strategist, and no warrior. But in the great story of Britain’s sacrifice on the altar of conflict against the tides of history, there is perhaps no one more responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Nazi war machine than he.

Just as much as Winston Churchill, or any of the soldiers who bravely risked all on the beaches of Normandy, through the Apennines, and in the fields of France and Holland, this man is a war hero and a patriot.

A persecuted minority. A misunderstood mind. A progressive martyr. A man who did his duty. Truly, Turing’s is a history that ticks all the boxes, and speaks to all corners of society today. 

Whether yours is the cause of righting injustice, of patriotism, of innovation, of meritocracy, or of individual liberty, there are few individuals who can compare. 

Turing is a man as cherished for his imperfections as his strengths, and as lionised for the wrongs that befell him as the rights he fought for.

He may not have been a decorated veteran, a woman, an ethnic minority, or one of the many things people clamoured to see on the new £50 note. But a note is a note – a small token of appreciation for the life of a person that speaks to so many, and, for so long unknown, affected so many more. 

Perhaps he was just another white man. But I challenge you to find an individual more deserving of recognition in today’s world.

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