"We're sorry. You deserved so much better", Gordon Brown wrote in a government apology issued in 2009. This unequivocal statement was made to the late Alan Turing who committed suicide in 1954 aged 41. The tragedy took place shortly after Turing had completed a course of experimental chemical castration offered as an alternative to a prison sentence following a conviction of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting a sexual relationship with a man.
Turing is most widely known for his work creating the machine that helped crack the German Enigmas machines, but is less widely known (although this appears to be changing) for his role in the birth of modern computing. In 1936 Turing set about creating a machine capable of simulating the logic of any computer algorithm. Turing machines are to this day a central object of study in theory of computation. Turing also contributed considerably to the debate on Artificial Intelligence and shortly before his death he published a paper on morphogenesis, the recognition of pattern formations in nature, in particular the existence of fibonacci numbers within plant structures.
The story of Turing's life and death was this week a topic of an competent and sometimes moving Channel 4 drama documentary, titled Britain's Greatest Codebreaker. It was suggested that his death had an immeasurable impact on the development on the computer industry as a whole. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak described Turing as “the top of everything that ever developed” in computation and it is rumoured, although denied by Apple, that their logo references the half eaten apple laced with cyanide that was found laying beside the dead body of Turing on the 7th June 1954. His favourite fairy tale was Sleeping Beauty.
2012 marks 100 years since A.M. Turing's birth and will be celebrated in the form of the Alan Turing Year, a year-long programme of events around the world honouring Turing's life and achievements.