Beki Grinter

Celebrating Turing, Remembering the Importance of Diversity

In academia, computer science, discipline, research on June 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm

There are lots of events celebrating the 100th anniversary of Turing’s birth. The ACM is having a meeting of 34 Turing Fellows, which it has been advertising for a while in its flagship magazine the Communications of the ACM. It looks like an interesting program, and I hope it took up diversity in the field.

I hope that the Program, particularly the panel on Turing the man, had the important discussion about advocating for the type of diversity that if it had existed during Turing’s time would have hopefully prevented his untimely suicide. Turing’s story is not just one of amazing contributions to Computing and to the War Effort, but also one about a cruel and intolerant world that surrounded him. Being from the same country as Turing is a reminder of what people acting in my name, i.e., the British Government/legal system, saw as criminal and how they punished him for it.

I am curious, did the ACM meeting discuss the Computing environment as a topic for reflection and discussion. I think it’s far too easy to overlook it in favor of discussing far safer and easier topics (and there’s an impressive list of them on the program, all of Turing’s accomplishments and their continuing impact on the discipline). But, this seems like the time and place for a harder discussion, one that the role models that we have identified in Computing, the Turing Fellows, have a lot to contribute too by setting directions for the field. I hope that the meeting discussed the question of how we are doing with respect to creating an environment in Computing that doesn’t leave anyone out irrespective of their race, gender or sexual orientation.

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  1. Hi beki,
    I’m a long time reader, first time commenter. Thank you very much for your reflections on this issue. I’m quite shocked about how little attention this has been getting in general and now on the occasion of his 100th birthday. I only recently learned about his horrific treatment by the British government on a radiolab episode. For those that would like to learn more about it, you can listen to the segment here:
    http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2012/mar/19/turing-problem/

    Thomas

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