A Royal Pardon for Alan Turing

According to computer scientist Jaron Lanier, the right way to understand the famous "Turing Test" is to understand that it "began in the mind of somebody who was very close to suicide."

Great Britain has finally issued a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing, the man who helped win World War II by cracking the German ENIGMA code. Turing was later persecuted by authorities for being gay. Today, his name is synonymous with the test he invented in 1950 for determining a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior.


According to computer scientist Jaron Lanier, the right way to understand the famous "Turing Test" is to understand that it "began in the mind of somebody who was very close to suicide."

In other words, Alan Turing is the very embodiment of the philosophical issue we face as we integrate technology into every aspect of our lives, and the distinction between man and machine grows ever slipperier. This rapid change to the human condition has been the source of great anxiety, as we start to call into question the very essence of what it is to be human. That is why Lanier says Turing's test amounted to "a flight from life, but also a defense of life." 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Lanier uses intentionally strong language, arguing that Turing was "murdered" by his government. Turing, after all, was forced to undergo treatments that were designed to change his biology. We can only speculate about the exact psychological state Turing was in when he committed suicide, which he did shortly after he designed his famous 'test,' which Lanier describes as both a "flight from life and a defense of life."

However, as we consider the implications today of merging man and machine, Turing's personal story is a very revealing window into the types of bioethical considerations we need to take into account. What if a government or large corporation can control our biology and attempt to change who we are? 

In slightly less sinister terms -- depending on your perspective -- are we already ceding this control away as we continue to voluntarily integrate technology into every part of our lives, including our bodies and our minds? Are we unintentionally (or in some cases quite intentionally) giving up our humanity in the process?

These are big questions, and we have raised them repeatedly in a series called Humanizing Technology, which examines the ways that technology can make us more, not less, human. To view this series, including additional insights from Jaron Lanier and other experts, click here

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard: Men who can do 40 pushups have a 'significantly' lower risk of heart disease

Turns out pushups are more telling than treadmill tests when it comes to cardiovascular health.

Airman 1st Class Justin Baker completes another push-up during the First Sergeants' push-up a-thon June 28, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Participants were allowed 10 minutes to do as many push-ups as they could during the fundraiser. Airman Baker, a contract specialist assigned to the 354th Contracting Squadron, completed 278 push-ups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Janine Thibault)
Surprising Science
  • Men who can perform 40 pushups in one minute are 96 percent less likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who do less than 10.
  • The Harvard study focused on over 1,100 firefighters with a median age of 39.
  • The exact results might not be applicable to men of other age groups or to women, researchers warn.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
Keep reading Show less