Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Notes for a poem about Alan Turing

Turing is a candidate for the 'father of the computer' title. He was a prime mover in the decryption of the German 'Enigma' code during WW2. See Turing Test / Enigma / Ultra etc.

Kallisti - Inscribed by Eris, the Greek goddess of discord, on the apple presented by the shepherd-prince, Paris, to Aphrodite, was the word kallisti, meaning 'for the fairest'. Apple of Discord. Turing committed suicide by eating an apple injected with cyanide, having been convicted of homosexual acts in 1954, and presented with the choice of 2 years in prison (at extreme personal risk), or submitting to chemical castration by oestrogen injections that would have curbed his libido and caused him to grow breasts. His suicide came two years after his conviction, following a period of deep depression; which there is little doubt was brought on by the disgrace, the oestrogen injections - and, no doubt, what must have felt a humiliating rejection by a nation that he had done much to save from defeat by the Nazis.

Words to discard - love that dare not - apple - dials - fingers - secrecy - enigma - test - intelligence - betrayal.

I imagine his wheels spinning, iterating through algorithms of dead ends, all solutions barred, the certainty that the decryption was false, that no solution was currently available, the code now lost, the wolfpack arrayed in the mist across the North Atlantic, no way through, grinding of foghorns in the mist, a mile of darkness beneath, the final certainty that it would be better to run into a mine and vanish in some small, secret explosion than to either sink into the crushing darkness waiting, or surrender to a sickness prescribed by a grateful nation in an act of gross judicial indecency...

Enigma Machine

It was possible to dream for a long time, there amidst the bundles of cable that stretched out into the mist. Always cold, but even possible to dream sometimes that you knew who was out there, that it really was a human being sending back those signals from the North Altlantic, from the mist, from wherever, somewhere on the end of those cold wires was a human that you could fall in love with, or who at least might come in singing in the night Lily Marlene across the shipping lanes to pluck apples from the waves imagine apples falling from the night that hummed with electromagnetic Asdic amongst the Nordic clouds rolling in from the North. But of course it was never really possible to know what was out there until the answer came in unequivocally, when the machine turned finally and the screen cleared, and a face appeared, an iron face that no human could ever love, not in this test or any other.