The testing of Alan Turing

The Providentia blog has a brilliant three part series on Alan Turing, focusing on how his homosexuality was treated at the time both as a mental illness and a criminal act.

As with all of the posts of Providentia it’s wonderfully written and captures the sad circumstances leading to the death of one of the world’s artificial intelligence pioneers and breaker of key German codes in the Second World War.

The piece places Turing’s ‘treatment’ in the context of how homosexuality was conceived and dealt with by the medical establishment of the time

In a 1949 paper, F.L. Golla and his colleagues presented the results obtained from a sample of thirteen convicted homosexuals and concluded that “libido could be abolished within a month” with sufficiently high dosages of female sex hormones. The authors concluded that “in view of the non-mutilating nature of this treatment and the ease with which it can be administered to a consenting patient we believe that it should be adopted whenever possible in male cases of abnormal and uncontrollable sexual urge”. Politicians and newspaper editorials alike praised the potential value of hormonal therapy. While critics warned that there was still too many unknowns involving the treatment, the potential gain was felt to be worth the risks involved. Controlling “unnatural” sexual urges with hormone treatments fit in well with the radical advances being made in other areas of psychiatry. Considering other types of experimental treatment being tried (including aversive conditioning, lobotomies, and electroconvulsive therapy), such treatment seemed relatively benign.

A highly recommended read about an exceptional man who was sadly let down by the country for whom who worked to protect.
 
Link to ‘The Turing Problem’ Part 1.
Link to ‘The Turing Problem’ Part 2.
Link to ‘The Turing Problem’ Part 3.

4 Comments

  1. Posted May 18, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Many thanks for yet another mention.

  2. Posted May 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks – this is a very interesting post and reference.

  3. jkforde
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I’d recommend watching Dangerous Knowledge on YouTube for its coverage of the ‘dangerous’ mathematicians Cantor, Boltzmann, Gödel and Turing in relation to the development of the unknown and uncertainty in maths and logic. Brilliant man, shameful treatment by an ignorant society (when is society ever enlightened?!)

    • Paul
      Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      Totally agree. Great Documentary by the way – love the paradox at the end.


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