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Take a quick look around you the next time you’re sat in the Library, the Three Tuns or anywhere filled with students in the majority of the Western world and you’ll see the greatest, accidental symbol of remembrance to a single person in the history of mankind. On the back of laptops, smartphones and music players. Just a single symbol that acts as a reminder of, possibly, the greatest man that ever lived. And most of the time, that man’s story goes unnoticed.

I’m talking about the logo of one of the most valuable companies in the world. Apple. Look back 20 years ago, and that logo looked very different. Rather than a shiny black or silver emblem, that image was emblazoned with a colourful rainbow. And that image, unintentionally, tells the story of the gay man that broke the code that saved the war and then broke a social code that led him to his death.

From an early age, a love of mathematics and science set Alan Turing apart from others. His teachers believed the only “proper” education was that of the classics and showed disdain for his aptitude, so much so that his headmaster wrote to his parents, stating: “I hope he will not fall between two stools. If he is to stay at public school, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a ‘Scientific Specialist’, he is wasting his time at a public school.” Undeterred, he continued to pursue the field, eventually studying at King’s College, Cambridge, graduating with first-class honours in Mathematics, going on to become a fellow and obtain his PhD from Princeton University.

Turing is considered the father of modern computing. His work, which mostly centered around hypothetical models, explained the functioning and the limits of computer algorithms. His work is so influential that the terms “Turing equivalent” and “Turing compatible” are still used today as a benchmark of technology development.

Turing is also considered the father of “Machine Intelligence” as we know it. He was the first to develop the theory that computers were – like humans – capable of absorbing information and thus, capable of learning. He theorized that this learning process could be the foundation of a computer’s ability to converse with humans and become sentient. At that point, he even considered that turning off the machine would be equivalent to murder. Today, Turing’s theories of Machine Intelligence are still being played out and, to this day, no one has been able to match his conditions.

But Turing’s formal academic achievements were just the beginning of the story. During the early part of the war, the Nazis developed a machine that could be used to encode transmissions to their army and naval forces, the Enigma Machine. This machine, originally developed before the war in order to keep business transactions secure as globalisation began to take hold, was being used to send messages to German naval submarines in order to strangle the supply shipments to the UK and other Allied nations. Turing and a team of academics at the British military’s most secret base, Bletchley Park, were instrumental in cracking the code and using the Enigma machine against the Nazis.

Whilst this feat doesn’t sound very impressive – after all, many people cracked codes in the war – consider the scale of the problem a little more closely. The Enigma Machine wasn’t just any cypher-encryption machine; any message could be encrypted (and subsequently decrypted) using only one of over 150,000,000,000,000,000,000 (150 million million million) different set ups and the exact set-up was changed every 24 hours. The Enigma Code was so complex to break, that you could give the enemy a working Engima Machine and they still couldn’t figure out the code fast enough – or so the Nazis thought.

Turing and the team at Bletchley Park never discovered how to break the Enigma Code – the process had already been discovered by Polish academics some years before. Their contribution was to speed up the process. Decyphering Enigma messages was taking weeks and, in many cases, the Allies would be far too late to defend against any plans the Germans sent across the airwaves. It was Turing’s mathematical genius and subtle flaws in the Enigma system, that led to the development of the Bombe machine. A process that took human code-breakers weeks now took a matter of hours. Countless lives were saved over the course of the rest of the war.

Alan Turing was one of the most forward thinking men of the last 100 years. He was trusted by governments, admired by Winston Churchill and owed a great debt. But for all his achievements, he was shunned by the people that put him on a pedestal because he broke what was, at the time, an unbreakable social code by being gay.

In 1952, Turing was robbed. During the investigation, details of his homosexuality became known to the authorities and Turing was charged for Gross Indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. His security clearance was revoked, he was fired from his position at the Government’s Communications Headquarters in Bletchley and he was laid to waste by the country that he had worked to save during the war.

As part of his sentencing, Turing was given the choice between a prison sentence or chemical castration through oestrogen injections – the 1950s equivalent of a “cure” for homosexuality that reduced the libido; he opted for the latter.

Two years later, on 8th June 1954, Turing was found dead in his apartment by his cleaner. The post-mortem examination confirmed that he had died from cyanide poisoning. Beside his body lay a half-eaten apple. Whilst this apple was never actually tested, it’s believed that this was the mechanism by which he administered the lethal dose.

Alan Turing soared so very high and then fell further than he should ever have been allowed. We owe him a great debt for his work, and his story reminds us of the great debt we owe the LGBT community for their contribution to society. We owe it to his memory to never again persecute someone based on their sexuality.