Film brings belated acclaim for WWII codebreaker Turing

Film brings belated acclaim for WWII codebreaker Turing
A handout picture released by Sherborne School shows British mathematician Alan Turing at the school in Dorset, southwest England, aged 16 in 1928.

LONDON - British mathematician Alan Turing ended his life condemned for being gay, but "The Imitation Game" has finally seen him recognised as a hero who hastened the end of World War II by cracking the Nazis' codes.

The film, nominated for eight Oscars and nine Baftas, shows the father of modern computing working obsessively to decrypt the codes produced by the Enigma machine, which were changed every 24 hours.

In succeeding where no one else had, Turing cut the war short by two years, according to a number of historians - potentially saving up to 14 million lives.

His achievements were not acknowledged during his lifetime because the top secret work he and others conducted at Bletchley Park Cypher School was only declassified in 2000.

In fact, he was prosecuted by the authorities in 1952 for "gross indecency" with another man. He escaped jail, but was forced to undergo chemical castration.

Turing was found dead by cyanide poisoning on June 7, 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday.

He was officially pardoned in 2013 following a campaign led by academics, but it is hit film "The Imitation Game", starring Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, that has brought his story to a broad audience.

"It's part of a momentum to have him at the forefront of the recognition that he deserves as a scientist, a father of the modern computer age and a war hero and a man who lived an uncompromising life in a time of disgusting discrimination," Cumberbatch said.

The actor has since signed a petition with more than 75,000 other people urging a pardon for all gay men convicted of indecency in Britain under laws that were only repealed in 1967.

An estimated 49,000 men were convicted and of those 15,000 are believed to be still alive.

Personal battles, seminal work

One of those who has helped restore Turing's reputation is S. Barry Cooper, a maths professor at the University of Leeds and the author of "Alan Turing: His Work and Impact".

Cooper spent six years organising celebrations for the centenary of Turing's birth in 2012, which involved hundreds of events in 40 countries.

He said it was "pretty amazing" but conceded it mostly involved academics who came to Turing through their work. The film, however, has brought his story to millions.

"Already people are asking me how they can learn more," Cooper told AFP, adding: "It's become - due to the movie - an unstoppable process".

As well as showcasing his achievements, "The Imitation Game" reaches back into Turing's lonely and troubled childhood and focuses on his difficult social relationships as an adult.

Despite his sexual orientation, Turing became engaged to his co-worker, Joan Clarke, played by Oscar-nominated actress Keira Knightley. He later broke off the relationship.

The 1983 book that inspired the film, "Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges, has been re-published, while a slew of others have been issued explaining the importance of the mathematician's work in computing.

One of Turing's most enduring legacies was his design for a "Turing Machine", a hypothetical device that can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm - a useful tool to explore what computers can do.

He also developed the "Turing Test" in 1950 to distinguish between humans and computers, as a way of identifying artificial intelligence, or whether computers "think".

Since 1966, there has been a prize awarded in Turing's honour each year, dubbed the Nobel Prize of Computing. Last year, sponsor Google quadrupled its value to $1 million.

After being prosecuted for his homosexuality, Turing escaped jail by agreeing instead to be injected with oestrogen, a process that would prove traumatic.

His death is commonly accepted to be suicide, although specialists still question whether it might have been accident or even murder.

It took 55 years for the British state to apologise for Turing's "horrifying" treatment. Prime minister Gordon Brown said in a formal statement in 2009: "We're sorry, you deserved so much better."

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