ALAN TURING has been voted the most iconic figure of the 20th century in a major BBC poll.
The man responsible for cracking the Nazi Enigma code through early computers and a range of technical approaches of his own devising beat off competition from Nelson Mandela, David Bowie, Martin Luther King Junior, Ernest Shackelton, Muhammad Ali and Pablo Picasso, all of which would have been worthy winners.
The month-long public vote climaxed last night with a live final where each of the eight nominees was championed by a 21st-century celebrity. Turing's corner was fought passionately by naturalist Chris Packham.
"A genius. A saviour. But he was also autistic and gay. So we betrayed him and drove him to suicide. Shame. His death an unforgiving tattoo on human consience," he said, adding: "His gift to us is our future".
Packham invited audience members to hold up their mobile phones, reminding them that his work in creating the modern computer was what allowed the audience to ‘sparkle'. "He's with us when we wake up. He's with us when we go to bed at night and he's with us when we talk to our loved ones."
After the war, Turing was responsible for many other innovations in the field, with the ‘Turing Test' still used as the benchmark for artificial intelligence, despite its limitations by today's standards.
Even before the war, his "Universal Turing Machine" was the basis for what we now know as the computer and was voted the most important invention of the century in an earlier vote.
Shamefully, he was persecuted for his sexuality, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. After accepting chemical castration in lieu of prison for his 'crimes' he withdrew and eventually committed suicide.
Arguably, the attitude towards him of his countrymen was on par with the treatment of those 'different' so famously displayed by the enemy he fought.
In 2009, after a public campaign, he was given an official 'pardon', though many argue that you can't be pardoned for doing what we no longer view as wrong and that an 'apology' was more appropriate.
With Turing now in contention to be the face of the new £50 note, his win will certainly boost his chances.
So there you have it. The father of modern computing, is now the greatest icon of the 20th century, without whom, the world as we know it would be unrecognisable. The debt of gratitude we owe him is almost beyond comprehension. μ
Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century Live Final is available on BBC iPlayer. Have some hankies ready.
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