WWII hero Alan Turing named greatest 20th century figure


Computer pioneer Alan Turing
Computer pioneer Alan Turing

Gay computer pioneer Alan Turing beat out Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela in a British poll. The poll asked people to name the most iconic figure of the 20th century.

The public vote in favour of Turing came during a live broadcast of BBC program Icons: The Greatest Person Of The 20th Century. He beat a host of other influential figures in politics, science, sport, and the arts.

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Turing’s brilliant mind was instrumental in both the invention of the modern computer and shortening World War II. The cracking the Nazi’s Enigma Code likely saved countless lives.

But, as presenter Nick Robinson noted during the telecast, Turing never enjoyed the admiration he now receives during his lifetime. 

“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.”

Decades later, following the declassification of secret military reports, the world learned of the importance of Turing’s work during World War II.

Alan Turing’s suicide

Indeed, his life ended in tragedy when, it’s suspected, he took his own life in 1954 at age 41. Two years earlier police arrested him for ‘gross indecency’ with another man. He accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison for the conviction.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a state apology to Turing. Then, in 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon.

Legislators also dubbed a law passed in 2017 to posthumously pardon thousands more British men for historical gay convictions as the ‘Turing law’.

During the Icons series, each nominated personality represented a particular category. In the lead-up to the vote, a documentary aired on each of the nominees.

Additionally, a current celebrity gave a speech advocating for the nominees.

Broadcaster Chris Packham, a known environmental activist, spoke on Turing’s behalf stating that the people of Britain owe him his long-deserved recognition.

The Imitation Game

The 2014 film The Imitation Game starring actor Benedict Cumberbatch depicted Turing’s life.

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