Yours in distress

Today’s letter is sent to you on the anniversary of Alan Turing’s death and is taken from the book, More Letters of Note. Huge thanks to the Alan Turing Estate and King’s College, Cambridge.

Alan Turing was a human being of exceptional intelligence who worked as one of the leading code-breakers during World War II. He is also considered to be the “father of modern computing” thanks to his pioneering work in the field of computer science. In 1950, before the term “Artificial Intelligence” had been coined, he posed the question, “Can computers think?” and proposed the Turing Test. His achievements are staggering. In 1952, he was charged with gross indecency after admitting to a sexual relationship with another man, and as a result was told to choose either imprisonment or chemical castration as punishment. He chose the latter. Alan Turing was found dead on June 8th, 1954, a day after taking his own life. The coroner’s verdict was suicide. He was aged just 41.

Turing wrote the following letter in 1952 to his friend and fellow mathematician, Norman Routledge, shortly before pleading guilty. Decades later, in 2013, Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned by Her Majesty the Queen.

My dear Norman,

I don’t think I really do know much about jobs, except the one I had during the war, and that certainly did not involve any travelling. I think they do take on conscripts. It certainly involved a good deal of hard thinking, but whether you’d be interested I don’t know. Philip Hall was in the same racket and on the whole, I should say, he didn’t care for it. However I am not at present in a state in which I am able to concentrate well, for reasons explained in the next paragraph.

I’ve now got myself into the kind of trouble that I have always considered to be quite a possibility for me, though I have usually rated it at about 10:1 against. I shall shortly be pleading guilty to a charge of sexual offences with a young man. The story of how it all came to be found out is a long and fascinating one, which I shall have to make into a short story one day, but haven’t the time to tell you now. No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I’ve not found out.

Glad you enjoyed broadcast. Jefferson certainly was rather disappointing though. I’m afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future.

     Turing believes machines think
     Turing lies with men
     Therefore machines do not think

Yours in distress,