Category Archives: Human Rights

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Alan Turing Speaks

By mimorg33

An especially poignant tribute to mathematician computer pioneer and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing is now permanently installed under Bishop’s Bridge Road in London. It is located near Sheldon Square and the Paddington station in the city of Westminster near the residential district of Maida Vale where he was born in 1912.
Turing who served with distinction during the war was one of hundreds of victims of the homophobia running rampant in Great Britain during the Fifties; as a result of which he was prosecuted, and found guilty of three counts of “gross indecency” in 1952 under what is known as the Labouchere Amendment of 1885. The first well-known victim of this nefarious statute was the writer Oscar Wilde back in 1895. Upon being found guilty Turing was given the choice of either prison or the “organo-therapy” he opted for. The treatment employed by the doctors at the Manchester Royal Infirmary consisted on the consumption of estrogen pills that not only caused him to grow breasts and left him impotent but also profoundly depressed him: he committed suicide on June 7, 1954 by eating a cyanide-laced apple; he was 41. The United Kingdom only decriminalized homosexual acts in 1967, a rather strong manifestation of atavistic thinking in that otherwise mostly forward moving nation.
Message From the Unseen World the Bishop’s Bridge Road permanent installation, is a collaboration between United Visual Artists, the group founded in 2003 by Matthew Clark, Chris Bird and Ash Nehru that specializes in large-scale temporary and permanent installations together with poet Nick Drake. The work was curated by Futurecity on behalf of Bristish Land, one of Europe’s largest publicly listed real estate companies. The piece consists of aluminum panels punctuated with holes that allow LED lights to shine through forming words from the poem that is Drake’s interpretation of Turing speaking about his life opening with the line: This is Alan Turing speaking… A Turing-inspired algorithm shuffles through the poem to form new versions of it that is unless you step back far enough to see it in its totality.

MESSAGE FROM THE UNSEEN WORLD
By Nick Drake

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This is Alan speaking
to you who pass by this bridge
in the enchantment of time
under the echoing arch
over the mirror of water
on your way to work or home
and to other places in the infinity
held in the secret dream cave
of your wonderful minds

This is Alan speaking
through this interface with time and space
I am the ghost in the universal machine
the one I dreamed as I lay on the grass
that grew in the green of lost time
of a meadow in Grantchester alone
thinking about whoever I was in love with at the time
and the unchanging truth of numbers
in their beautiful equations
and the enigma of human beings
in their infinite possible configurations –
I was puzzling the problem of the apple
of the knowledge of good and evil –
For on that day you eat of it
you shall surely die
but the winding snake
the only creature coded as a question
looked me in the eye and asked
in his intelligent high voice –

What’s wrong with this picture?
Why do starfish have five arms
and why are they fish not stars?
What connects stars and grains of sand?
What is the secret ciphered in a fir cone?
Why is the heart always on the left?
Natural wonders every child should know…

He smiled like the flickering pages of a book –
Christopher, my first true love, appeared
his beautiful fingers blue with ink
holding his telescope and the star globe
I made him as a present –
We lay side by side
looking through the window at the stars
naming the constellations
as they wheeled across the night
The maths brain lies often awake in his bed
Doing logs to ten places and trig in his head
When I woke in the shock of light
he was gone
and nothing was ever the same again

What happens to the dead
when spirit separates from matter?
Is time a river ever giving birth
in an endless wheel?
Why is loss always incalculable?
What is the heart’s square root,
its point and infinite recurrences?

This is Alan speaking
perhaps you wish to hear about the task
of deciphering the Enigma messages?
It was the impossible before breakfast
to imagine the unimaginable
the day after war was declared –
but a logical theorem says
you can deduce everything from a contradiction
so we imagined a cryptanalytic machine
an electric brain ticking away
to solve the insoluble
to sort the irrelevant from the essential
to discover the heart of the mystery
in thousands of meaningless signals every day
enciphered and sent by the enemy
in billions of different possible combinations –
like reading a poem written in random static
in wind and rain and dark
threaded with the dot and dash of Morse
encrypted transmitted transcribed
but there was one clue –
a letter was never enciphered as itself
so that was the starting point
to find the letters that made the only word
that helped to save ships and lives
in the middle of the Atlantic
and some say win the war –
We kept hush hush but I wondered

Could a machine be intelligent and if so how?
Could a machine be fascinated by another machine?
Could machines talk to each other?
Could a machine experience delight
and suffer fear and jealousy?
If a machine could dream what would it dream
in the forest of the night?
Could a machine fall sick or fall in love?
Could a machine imagine the future?

This is Alan speaking
we devised the Automatic Computing Engine
capable of calculating anything
quantified in an algorithm
and that was the basis of the future –
But how is it I found myself
a stranger in a room alone
a sequence of contradictory instructions
coded into my criminal heart?
Of gross indecency accused
I replied truthfully
Englishman atheist mathematician
Order of the British Empire
Recreations listed in Who’s Who
chess long-distance running gardening
(the last a kind of lie, I like wild flowers) –
Homosexual cryptographer
noble in reason or traitor in his bones?
Unable to say a word of what I knew
unable to speak the unspeakable
secret within the secret
I felt no guilt –
They offered me a choice
Prison or probation
with hormonal emasculation –
I made my decision
and emerged a different man

Why does nothing happen for a long time
Then everything suddenly changes?
Why does the rational give rise to the irrational?
Who is this man kissing me on the mouth?
Is he telling truth or lies?

This is Alan speaking
now as I could not speak before
to you who were unborn when I died –
Oh beautiful people of tomorrow
we are not fallen creatures
life is the only garden
the apple is love
two Adams, two Eves
in open celebration hand in hand
So I delight to watch you dance
in the enchantment of time
like angels in a forest of mirrors
but in the age of shopping
festivals and information consumption
the sign of the bitten apple is everywhere
and your lives are held in the beautiful devices
familiar in your hands –
So revel in your liberty
but read between the lines
you are becoming information
touch screen to touch screen
connected but alone
the algorithm of desires and dreams
end to end encryption held
in the infinite memory of the great ghost server

How did the zebra get its stripes
and the leopard its disguise of spots?
Why does a snail have a spiral shell?
Why do sunflowers follow not just the sun
but the Fibonacci sequence
in the structure of their beautiful faces?
How does a bud of cells generate your seeing eyes
and beating heart?

This is Alan speaking
I have been waiting a long time
puzzling everything and nothing –
I leave no note of explanation
but a mystery story
it is an ordinary summer evening
by the side of my bed is found
a half-eaten slice of apple
Dip the apple in the brew
let the sleeping death seep through –
I lie alone for the last time
at the edge of reality
my arms at my sides
like a badly-dressed figure on a tomb
looking out of the window at the sun
setting for the final night
a golden apple in the black branches
of a tree of shadows where the birds quibble –
until it disappears into the dark

This is Alan speaking
to you who pass by this bridge.

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