This World Was Never Meant For One As Beautiful As You*

by Ashish

Early June heralds the onset of summer in the British Isles, but spring elsewhere is a far cry from spring in this corner of the world. It is cold and windy more often than not, and grey, leaden skies are the overwhelming norm.

I cannot know for sure what the weather was like on the 7th of June, 1954 in England, but it would be apt if it was dark and gloomy. For it was on that day that Alan Turing tragically decided to end his life, drawing the curtain on a brilliant, but always doomed existence.

Governments the world over are monumentally idiotic, and always will be. But even by their apathetic standards, the decision taken by the authorities back then – to offer Turing a choice between imprisonment or probation, so long as Turing agreed to a form of chemical castration – must rank as idiocy of an unparalleled order.

Turing’s achievements need no repetition, or repeated acclamation. It has been done often enough, and by people far more capable of understanding and appreciating his achievements. Suffice it to say that his achievements ranged from independently discovering fundamental theories in statistics to path breaking predictions in chemistry. His repertoire also included ground breaking work in mathematical biology and a program for a chess game that was written for a computer that hadn’t been invented yet.

To cap it all, he was the inventor of the Turing machine.   The doodle is a tribute to his monumental idea:  he created a simple machine that could depict any algorithm, no matter how complicated. It is difficult to cite a suitable analogy in this instance, but imagine coming up with a vehicle that can fly, float or drive along any terrain, on any planet. Something like that.

This in itself would have been enough to have the world value his presence in it, without taking into consideration perhaps his greatest achievement: his contribution in breaking the Enigma cipher. It wasn’t a solo effort, not by any means, but then again, Barca without Messi isn’t quite the same team, now is it?

To cut a long story short, he was a genius of a level us mortals can’t begin to understand.

And as has been the case throughout history, the world doesn’t take too kindly to these gentle geniuses. In Turing’s case, he was slapped with criminal charges when he went to the police to report a robbery on his premises.

His crime? Confessing to being a homosexual.

One year, almost to the day, after receiving ‘treatment’ for the disease, he committed suicide by biting into an apple laced with cyanide. It might please you to know that nearly half a century after his death, the British government issued a formal apology to him, stating that they had been asses about the whole thing. Given that Turing believed in the survival of the spirit after death, perhaps this is not, after all, the most asinine thing ever done.

Now, the reason I bring all this up on this blog, ladies and gentlemen, is because Persistent Systems, a Pune based IT firm, is coming up with a series of commemorative lectures around the time of Turing’s 100th birth anniversary.

The lectures themselves seem to have been designed by and for geeks, but there is a primary session devoted to the life of Alan Turing. This is scheduled for tomorrow, at the Dewang Mehta auditorium, Senapati Bapat Road from 2pm to 5pm. One can register for, and find more details about the event here.

The leash around my neck is loosened only on Saturday evenings, so I will not be able to attend the festivities, but as a fan of one of the brightest lights to have shone on the this planet, no matter how briefly, I would encourage you to land up.

It’s a fairly intellectual way of spending a Saturday afternoon, I admit, but it should be worth your while.

*The title is from the song “Vincent” by Don McLean. I thought of the song when I read this quote by Bertrand Russell on Turing’s Wikipedia page: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere”.

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