After reading about World War II cryptanalyst Alan Turing in The Code Book not too long ago, I was a little surprised to see him reappear so soon in a book I’m currently reading. However, Alan Turing makes his appearance again in A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins (review forthcoming).
In this novel, Turing is mentioned more for his theory of computer intelligence than his codebreaking skills. The “Turing Test” measures the ability of a computer to exhibit intelligent behavior to where it is indistinguishable from a human (such as in conversation).
In A Working Theory of Love, the main character muses on Turing’s theory of computer intelligence, and calls it a bit cynical.
“I always attributed this soft cynicism to his [Alan Turing’s] biography: first he was the finest codebreaker for the British during World War II– a kind of spy– then in the fifties he became a broken code himself. They prosecuted him for homosexuality, and then took away everything.”
—From A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins.
The narrator later corrects himself, saying the persecution came well after his theory of machines; however, the part about Alan Turing’s sad biography is true. Homosexual acts were at that time illegal in the UK. Turing underwent chemical castration as punishment and committed suicide only a few years later.
Today, Turing is remembered for his genius and pioneering work in the field of computer science. An official apology for the way he was treated was issued by the British Prime Minister in 2009.
Perhaps the most telling tribute is that there is now an official Alan Turing Memorial Monopoly board game, based on a hand-drawn board he created back when he was still a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.