Seeing how it is Alan Turing's 100th anniversary today. Decided to post up this article for those who are interested.
Originally Posted by The Contrasting Fates Of Alan Turing And Lord Sempill
Sempill's activities were never made public during his lifetime and he continued to live the life of establishment nobility, keeping his position in the House of Lords that he had inherited from his father, and being given the chairmanships of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the British Gliding Association. Sempill died peacefully in 1956 having never faced punishment or public criticism for his crimes. His hereditary seat in the Lords passed to his daughter Ann and his Baronetry to his younger brother Ewan. It was only in 2002 that the scale of his treachery and his fascist and Anti-Semitic tendencies came to light after classified documents about his activities were finally released into the public domain.
Returning to Alan Turing, he had a much harder time after the end of the war. All of his codebreaking work was classified by the government so he could never talk about his great contribution to the war effort. He continued his work with computers, famously devising the Turing Test as a means of determining whether computer has achieved artificial intelligence, a test that remains an essential concept in the philosophy of artificial intelligence. He also developed the LU Decomposition method (complex algebra) and did pioneering work in the field of morphogenesis, (which is the study of how biological organisms develop their shape).
In 1952 Turing was charged with Gross Indecency after admitting to having had a homosexual relationship with a man who later robbed his house. He was found guilty and given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration. This conviction meant that his security clearance was revoked meaning that he was barred from continuing his cryptographic work with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Turing chose to be chemically castrated rather than face prison.
On the 8th of June 1954 Turing was found dead by his cleaner, a post mortem examination determined that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning, however no forensic examination of the property took place and his death was officially attributed to suicide. Many people including his mother refused to accept the verdict. The ambiguous circumstances of his death and the lack of a thorough investigation mean that nobody will ever know whether his death was intentional suicide, accidental poisoning or by means of foul play.
Turing's brilliance was not recognised until years after his death. In 1966 the Turing Award was established to for technical contributions to the computing community. It is widely considered to be the computing world's highest honour, equivalent to a Nobel Prize in computing. It took until 2009 for the British establishment to made an official public apology, which was made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.
The similarity between the two men lies in the way the war conduct of both of them remained shrouded in secrecy until long after their deaths. Sempill was never exposed as the traitor he was and it seems that somebody intervened to ensure that many presumably incriminating files from the 1930s and 1940s "disappeared", never to reach the public domain at all, whilst all the hugely important work undertaken at Bletchley Park remained secret until the 1970s, meaning that Turing's outstanding contribution to the war effort was not recognised until long after his death.
Had the public been allowed to know about the codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, Winston Churcill's famous speech about the valiant fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain could easily have been made about the codebreakers too; "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".
What is remarkable about the contrasting fates of these two men is the way that members of the British establishment (including the Prime Minister and the Attorney General) repeatedly intervened to protect one of their own, despite his fascist tendencies and decades of treasonous behavior, whilst the establishment people Turing had known and associated with during his time at Cambridge University and at Bletchley Park refused to intervene to help him when criminal charges were brought against him for the trivial offence of engaging in homosexual acts, despite his outstanding contribution to the war effort.
It seems amazing that British nobility, including the Prime Minister, would repeatedly intervene to ensure that another member of their privileged class avoided prosecution for incredibly serious crimes such as passing official secrets to foreign powers at a time of war, yet wouldn't do anything to lean on prosecutors to drop the charges against a war hero and genius who happened to have been born into the "lower social orders".
It seems that the British nobility would turn a blind eye the most heinous of crimes (espionage, treason, fraternising with the enemy, Anti-Semitism) if it was one of their own class doing it, yet they would refuse to intervene to prevent a true war hero from suffering homosexual prosecution and chemical castration, simply because he was not one of the upper classes.