Alan Turing has beaten the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela to be named the most “iconic” person of the 20th century.
The scientist was chosen to be the most “iconic” figure of the 20th century in a live broadcast of BBC Two’s Icons” The Greatest Person Of The 20th Century.
Turing is one of the most influential figures in the development of theoretical computer science, his formation of algorithms and computation with the Turing machine is considered the model of a modern day computer.
However, arguably one of his greatest achievements came during World War Two when Turing played a vital role in cracking the Enigma machine, which became a crucial element in the defeat of the Nazi’s and ultimately brought an end to the war. It is thought this feat shortened the war by up to four years, saving millions of lives in the process.
(Image: Alan Turing aged 16. Source: WikiCommons)
Whilst, Turing was not born in Manchester, much of his groundbreaking work was conducted whilst working at the Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester following the war. Here, Turing played a vital role in developing one of the earliest true computers – the Manchester Ferranti Mark.
Unfortunately, Turing spent most of his life celebrating these monumental breakthroughs in silence and died being branded a “criminal”.
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)
In 1952, Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts, during a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK. Only two years later, in 1954, Turing died from cyanide poisoning. An inquest ruled his death as a suicide, although accidental poisoning has not been ruled out.
During the BBC broadcast of Icons, presenter Nick Robinson said this of Turing: “He was a man who worked almost entirely in secret, who received little credit for cracking the Nazi codes and shortening the war and who died having been branded a criminal.”
“Today he is the most celebrated figure of the 20th century, a father of computing, war hero and genius.”
Wildlife expert and presenter, Chris Packham, was tasked with making the case for Turing being the most iconic figure of the 20th century, and it was one of the most emotional moments of the show. You can watch the segment below (and I would highly recommend you do).
— BBC (@BBC) February 6, 2019
In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an offical public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”. In 2013, The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon and in 2017 the “Alan Turning law” was passed, retroactively pardoning men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
A memorial honouring Alan Turning sits in Sackville Park, in between The University of Manchester and Canal Street.
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Alan Turing. Gone too soon and treated appaulingly by his country despite being instrumental in WWII. #ZoeHeathcotePhotography #AlanTuring #ThisIsMcr #ProudOfMcr #IgersMcr #Mcr_Collective #ItsAllAboutManchester #ManchesterGram #Mcr_Follow #ManchesterPhotographyClub #DiscoverUnder5k #SugarCoatMag #StreetPhotography #VotreZine #AGameOfTones #AbsoluteShots #City_Explore #CityKillerz #CatchTheMoment #GramSlayers #InstaColours #MoodyGrams #StreetStyle #TfGM #UKPhotoOfTheDay #WeLoveMcr #SPI_Colour #Memorial
Viewers were overjoyed with Turing’s win and took to Twitter to share their excitement.
— Sarah Price (@SarahGPrice71) February 6, 2019
A tortured soul, a genius, fitting then that during #LGBTHistoryMonth Alan Turing is recognised for his outstanding contribution & named the the greatest #icon of the 20th Century ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/IyJmerXMhI
— Amanda Davies (@amandajdavies10) February 5, 2019
All great people and impossible to choose one, but what makes Alan Turing different is that he didnt get recognition or adulation in his own lifetime. In this age of social media it is a timely reminder that it’s what you do that’s important and not how many people know about it.
— Alan Loader (@AlanLoader) February 5, 2019
Turing is regarded as the father of computer science. His life has been explored in numerous plays, books and most famously in the the 2015 Academy Award-winning film, The Imitation Game.
We owe Turing a lot, from our freedom to the smartphones in our pockets.
As Peckham said in his excellent speech – “Alan Turing’s legacy hasn’t passed. It’s not a relic of the 20th Century. His gift to us, is our future”.