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In this essay, Mike Selinker strikes a sad note in England's history, when they killed national hero and genius Alan Turing, thereby relegating themselves to the dustbin of history. It's a must-read.

One can see this tragedy as an opportunity for an alternate-history story. Has anyone written this: What if England hadn't forced Alan Turing into an intolerable situation? What if he had gone on to establish a British computer industry in the 1950s? What if computer science had flourished twenty years sooner than it did?

Questions that elicit answers that make Turing's death even more tragic.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 12th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
I suspect he might have gone further in working models but be stymied by the economic context of his work (ie a British university*).

There's a very good tv film Breaking the Code, based on Hugh Whitmore's play, in which Derek Jacobi plays Turing. As I recall, the way it presents things, Turing could have lied a bit more and the police would have overlooked his sexuality - instead he admitted to everything.

Certainly not one of Britain's finer moments.

* The story is told** of George Gray's development of LCD technology at the University of Hull in the 1960s after decades of work at the chemistry department, with no patent filed on the grounds no one could see a practical purpose for these.

** The story is told - but I suspect parts of it are local urban myth, such as the whale buried under the social sciences building and what precisely a future children's presenter did with the soccer and/or American Football team on/under the pool table.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip; I'd like to check out that show some time.

The LCD story is a bit depressing.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
According to Uchronia, there is Stephen Dedman's "The Godfather Paradox." I thought I remembered others, but Uchronia isn't showing anything else about Alan Turing.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)
Sounds like fertile ground, then!
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Greg Bear's "Tangents" has a Turing surrogate who survives. Charles Stross's Laundry series begins after Turing was terminated for Knowing Too Much about other dimensions.
Nov. 12th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Ooh, right - I'd forgotten about Tangents.
Nov. 14th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
By coincidence I was talking to an old boy in my local last night - who's just turning 86 - who claims to have been invited to see the first computer in Manchester in the 1940s (I think he said 1946, but that's too early by two or three years). He describes having to strip off because of the heat from the valves.* He didn't meet Turing, although he did work with people who had split the atom once they'd fled Germany, and people in chemical warfare. (If you take Bob at his word - and he is maddening, infuriating, frustrating and absolutely fascinating - he was robbed of the Nobel for chemistry. I wish he was lucid enough to sit down with and record the stories, but bile, drink and age would get in the way.)

* I have a vision of the computer room as a Turkish bath, with Turing surrounded by naked people and suddenly either quite awkward or fascinated...
I'm not sure how humid it would have felt though.
Nov. 14th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC)
What an interesting character! Yeah, he just cries out to be interviewed, to save his stories.

That's quite an image in the computer room, too.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )