note: We published a version of this article last year. You can read it here.
Today, June 23, would have been the 110th birthday of Alan Turing: brilliant English mathematician, computer scientist, and crypto-analyst who made some truly remarkable contributions to the field we all love.
It's especially meaningful and poignant that Turing was born in June — a month that many countries now recognize as LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. That's because in addition to being a groundbreaking thinker and computer scientist, Alan Turing also happened to be a gay man born into a country that (like far too many) didn't decriminalize homosexuality until the late 1960s.
Turing died at the age of 41 shortly after being abused at the hands of his own government and convicted as a criminal for his sexuality. Not only was Alan Turing's life cut violently short, but his dazzling accomplishments were stripped away, his reputation tarnished.
That's why each year during his birth month, we celebrate the life and legacy of Alan Turing. As a community of code-obsessed people, we know you'll love reading about a few of his inventions and history-making projects as much as we do...
During World War II, Turing worked in a high position with Britain’s code-breakers at Bletchley Park. He helped create the original design for the "bombe": an electro-mechanical device to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages during World War II. This work helped reveal critical Nazi submarine pathways, contributing to the Allied forces’ eventual success.
In 1950, Turing published a thought experiment to explore whether or not a computer could pass as a human being. The "Turing Test" required a human aid to pose questions to determine if the responses came from a computer or a human. While the test eventually revealed weaknesses, it became a critical milestone in the history of artificial intelligence.
During his time at Bletchley Park, Turing also created the "Delilah" — a portable machine that could encode a voice message securely and is now considered to have been decades ahead of its time.
Note: You can read a complete a transcription of Turing's Delilah report here.
... and much more. For an amazing and detailed look at Alan Turing's life, this obituary from The New York Times' "Overlooked" collection is worth a read.
Despite obvious accomplishments and service to his country, Alan Turing's life and work was cut short due to bigoted views about his sexuality. It's too easy to look at black and white photos of figures like Turing and convince ourselves that these human atrocities took place in a bygone era that has no relationship to this current moment.
But the truth is, Turing's conviction for "indecency" was just 70 years ago. A relative speck of time.
As software developers, it is, of course, our duty to never let what happened to Alan Turing happen again. But it's also important to continuously celebrate the joy and genius of LGBTQIA+ technologists willing to share their authentic lives with us. As a future-oriented field, technology depends on the participation, safety, and empowerment of all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
You might remember that earlier this month, we shared the following message on DEV:
DEV will be donating $10 USD to the Martha P. Johnson Institute for every #devpride story shared here. Read more about Martha P. Johnson and the #devpride celebration here
Happy Pride and Happy Birthday, Alan Turing!