At the end of Channel 4's documentary the words issued by Gordon Brown in 2009 filled the screen. I was the person who ran the Turing apology campaign, essentially single handedly.

For verification I tweeted about this AMA:!/jgrahamc/status/138939015008227328

And here's me on BBC News:

EDIT: Some people think 'made' would be a better verb than 'forced'. That's probably right.

EDIT: Signing off now. Thanks for all the questions.

Comments: 545 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

Limes19676 karma

No questions, but thank you for what you did. :)

[deleted]361 karma

Thanks for that. It's heartwarming to hear.

EDIT: One way to say thanks is to 'pay it forward'. One day you'll come across something in the world that you believe really needs to be changed. Perhaps you'll see an injustice, or lose a loved one to a disease, or believe that a law is wrong. If it really burns deep into your soul then do what I did: step up and be counted. Make a difference.

The important thing is to forget about me specifically and think about what action you can take that will make a difference.

mydadsarse274 karma


paolog59 karma

and dick-slap the king if he wanted to.

FTFY. At the end of the war, the reigning monarch was George VI.

mydadsarse59 karma


paolog26 karma

True, and come to think of it, George VI's wife was the queen (later the Queen Mother), so you were right all along!

mydadsarse23 karma


selophane4319 karma

Good grief. You people and your slappings of dicks.

[deleted]27 karma


[deleted]11 karma

We shall dickslap them in France, we shall dickslap them on the seas and oceans, we shall dickslap with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our right to dickslap, whatever the cost may be. We shall dickslap them on the beaches, we shall dickslap them on the landing grounds, we shall dickslap in the fields and in the streets, we shall dickslap in the hills

[deleted]11 karma

'You people' What do you mean 'you people'?!

[deleted]278 karma


glglglglgl111 karma

My brain was like "wut" but then I noticed the rainbow flag and understood it was sarcasm.

[deleted]28 karma


glglglglgl29 karma

OK, with some ZOOM! ZOOM! ENHANCE! power, I found a website and the words "I agree with the SJC", The website no longer exists, but the first result in Google for the phrase is an old Reddit post of this exact photo. Top comment explains that it is about the Supreme Justice Court of Massachusetts' decision to allow gay marriage, so this woman is definitely supporting it.

edit: I totally found it before you found it too. But high fives all around for being internet detectives!

[deleted]18 karma


ogaddi124 karma

I understand that what happened to him was terrible but it wasn't gordon brown or his government that was responsible. I'm not trying to be argumentative I'm just interested in what the affected parties gain from apologies from unrelated parties. It is also something I have wondered about some UK cities apologising about the slave trade. By the same logic should the UK be demanding an apology from the Viking countries of Scandinavia for their frequent attacks, raids, rape and occupation. Or Italy for the forced occupation during the Roman Empire. I realise time is an issue here and some things are history but the premise is similar.

The people that should ultimately be apologising about that is the church as it is their doctrine that encouraged this mistreatment of homosexuals. Then society too, I'm sure for the most part they supported it.

Please understand, this isn't meant to piss you off. I just want to know what closure can be achieved by this?

[deleted]147 karma

It was Gordon Brown and his government that apologized but I forced that with a petition that became very widely known in the UK and had 10,000s of signatures. Clearly, he wasn't responsible.

That doesn't annoy me. I think the key question for an apology is whether there are people still hurt by the activity. I think it's hard to argue about the Viking invasion or Roman Empire because they were so long ago that it's difficult to say that people today are actively harmed by those actions.

In Turing's case there are plenty of people alive who were affected by his treatment and death (including family) and there are people alive who didn't get to work with him because of it. Thus I felt that it was reasonable to ask for the apology. There are also men alive today who were convicted under these laws.

I'm not sure I was looking for 'closure', but I was looking for an adjustment of the declination on Britain's moral compass. By apologizing we can look at the past and use it to show the way forward. People (gay or whatever other 'difference') should not be treated that way.

As for the religious angle, I was brought up in the Christian tradition. It's pretty clear to me that Jesus wanted people to treat others as they would wish to be treated. I think by that standard Turing's treatment was a failure.

reddddditer83 karma

Now what about Oscar Wilde? Get to work!

[deleted]127 karma

The larger question is the treatment of all homosexual men and women under the same law. Oscar Wilde is but one of many (mostly anonymous) people who were treated poorly. Gordon Brown's apology did mention them, though.

[deleted]35 karma

I recently heard about an effort to have outstanding criminal records for the crime of homosexuality expunged in the uk. Forgive me, I can't recall if it was an ongoing campaign or a successful one - I heard about it on radio 4. The stories they told were very sad - aside from being prosecuted in the first place, some of them were unaware their criminal records existed and were denied jobs later in life for having them. This treatment should be a source of shame for brits, and it's heartening to see action taken to atone for mistakes in the past.

stopmotionporn55 karma

If you 'make' somebody apologise, does it really mean anything? What I'm saying is I doubt they were sincere, they just wanted you to shut up.

[deleted]113 karma

Of course it's hard to know whether Gordon Brown was being sincere, but when I discussed this with him on the phone I felt that he was. He stated that he had been unaware of the story and that it had shocked him to learn of it.

Make of that what you will.

sjk9725 karma

I'm really surprised he didn't know the story. He was one of the most important Brits of the last 100 years, you'd think the Prime Minister would have some idea what happened to him.

Also what's Brown like in reality? Is he as bad as everyone thinks?

edit: I forgot to add, thank you so much for what you achieved :)

[deleted]51 karma

Well, part of the purpose of the campaign was to make sure that everyone had heard of Turing. It's easy to think people knew of him.

I thought talking to him that he sounded uncomfortable on the phone but sincere and the fact that he took the time to personally call me was significant and I would have happily gone down the pub and had a pint with him.

colormeplaid23 karma

How did you generate publicity for the campaign to gain a following? Or did it get online and just sort of spin out of control?

[deleted]55 karma

Initially through my blog, Hacker News and reddit. Then I began working any press contacts I had left over from when my book came out. I worked very hard to contact the press, get stories written. I appeared on numerous radio and TV shows (starting with obscure ones and working up to the big ones) to talk about the campaign.

Every day I went through the list of signatories to the petition to see which famous people had signed. For example, when Richard Dawkins signed it was easier for me to get press because the story then became "Richard Dawkins backs..." rather than "Obscure British programmers says...". Many other celebrities became involved although I never met any of them!

The big break came when I emailed someone at the BBC and told her that basically she had to write a story about the campaign (she had interviewed me about my book) because it was really important. She wrote this article: and it really went wild.

More details:

I used Twitter, Facebook as well to get the word out, but in the end it was 'old media' that really helped to spread the news.

YesImVeryRude22 karma

Why do the newspapers think if he would have lived longer he would have brought silicon valley to England and why do you dislike that theory?

[deleted]32 karma

I answered that in a blog post:

Newspapers love that sort of thing.

ForNoRaeson19 karma

Did you know that there is a 9-foot statue of Alan Turing at the University of Surrey and that it is a tradition amongst members of the Physics department (which I attended) to get a graduation photo standing next to him? If so, have you got a photo with the statue?

[deleted]10 karma

I had heard of the statue but I have not had my photograph taken there. I don't really go in for that sort of thing (being pictured next to celebrities of any kind).

Orbixx16 karma

Why you?

[deleted]32 karma

Can you explain a little more clearly what you mean by that? Do you mean "why did I achieve that?" or "why did I take on that cause?"?

Orbixx18 karma

Sorry, I meant the latter.

[deleted]107 karma

The treatment of Turing had always really upset me from the day I learned about it. Since I studied computer science and then went on to cryptography I was especially close to some of the areas that he was working.

Then in 2009 I realized that with the raised profile of Bletchley Park people were starting to celebrate Turing and I felt there was a terrible hypocrisy in not also talking about and facing up to the end of his life. So, getting mad one evening I blogged about it and started the petition via the Number 10 web site.

The core pain I felt about Turing's treatment was that it was a clear example of how prejudice ruins lives and damages the people who are being prejudiced. By treating Turing in that way Britain lost a fantastic mind for really petty reasons. The same applies to racism, sexism and any other arbitrary way of persecuting people because they are 'different'.

It's a bitter irony that Turing having fought against the Nazis who would have simply put him to death for being gay should then be treated so poorly.

dagbrown16 karma

I thank you for your wonderful gift of glorious link karma that I harvested when the apology went out. That was my highest-upvoted submission ever.

To my shame, #7 on my scoreboard was an inadvertent repost that I hadn't realized had been posted a day before...with, apparently not quite so good a headline.

[deleted]15 karma


manicooller14 karma

Thank you. I think it's a shame that Alan Turing isn't celebrated or recognized in the same way that Einstein/Sagan/Newton are.

fapti11 karma

As a person working in cryptography and interested in enigma you are probably familiar with the work of Rejewski. What is your opinion on him not being allowed to work at Bletchley Park during WWII?

[deleted]16 karma

Hard to know really because I don't know all the details. IIRC the concern was that they'd been in occupied France (Rejewski and others) for a while and that Bletchley Park was too sensitive a location for them to be sent to.

RhythmPrince10 karma

Have you read Cryptonomicon? It is a great book that features the area of WW2 that Turing worked in. He isn't the main character, but he is a major one.

[deleted]9 karma

Oh, yes. Great book.

baudehlo8 karma

The Number 10 petitions web site seemed to have some level of influence on politicians' actions in the UK, albeit a minor one for any significant level of policy. This compares with the USA's new "We The People" petition web site, which appears to be just giving lip service to the petitions put up.

As someone who has had significant success out of the Number 10 petitions, how would you suggest fixing "We The People"?

[deleted]19 karma

The petition was significant because of the number of people who signed (>30,000) which meant that a significant portion of the voting public was signing. That's what makes politicians listen. At the same time the issue was getting widespread and world-wide publicity (another thing politicians listen to).

The reality is that the petition alone wasn't important, what's important is the public opinion behind it.

baudehlo7 karma

Well one difference is that e-petitions with enough signatures are discussed in parliament, whereas "We The People" petitions are merely responded to by a post on the web site. I think that's an important difference. That's the kind of thing I was getting at, but yes I agree, publicity is vitally important too.

On that note, how much marketing of the petition did you have to do, or did it mostly spread virally and the news agencies came to you?

[deleted]5 karma

I did a hell of a lot of work combining social media (including reddit), old media contacts.


karma-toes7 karma

Excellent documentary on Channel 4 last night - mind blown. They say most mathematicians do their best work before they're 26 or something. Yet Turing kept coming up with lid-lifting insights almost until the end at the tender age of 41. Tell me, in your opinion, of his intellectual breakthroughs, what do you think was his greatest achievement and why?

[deleted]9 karma

It's a tough decision between the Entscheidungsproblem paper (because it was an answer to one of Hilbert's questions) or the later work on morphogenesis (because it opened up so many possibilities).

selflessGene7 karma

Have you ever thought of going into politics? I believe you've started at least one other campaign to get the government to support computer science in schools.

[deleted]24 karma

I do not have any desire to go into politics because I would not want to be associated with a particular party. I am much too much of an independent. I do have strong feelings on some things and have spoken up about them when I felt it was necessary. But doing that full time? Not sure.

I supported the campaign for computer science to be taught in schools because I think it is a fundamental piece of knowledge that children need to be exposed to and Britiain's current feeble effort of showing kids how to find the Print menu is Word is FUBAR.

orsr6 karma

First of all, I applaud you, good sir, you're an inspiration for us all.

My question:

Do you think it was necessary? The government that sentenced Turing to his "treatment" is long gone.

Motig5 karma

As a gay computer scientist, thank you.

As a human being, well done.

firepile5 karma

Thank you for this. I'm American, and when I visited the UK over the summer my partner and I went to visit Bletchley Park (I work in AI and he's a programmer). We were... disheartened, to say the least, that for all of the talk of Turing and the statues of him, no one mentioned his treatment by the government during the tour. I think someone from Bletchley mentioned (online, after the fact) that they're planning to change the tour a bit, to accommodate this.

[deleted]5 karma

They do now have a framed copy of the apology that Gordon Brown sent them.

MyNamesSpelledWeird5 karma

Who do you think of yourself as having done it for mostly? Alan Turing's sake? The sake of all homosexuals wrongly prosecuted? For the greater homosexual cause today/homosexuals everywhere? For everyone to show that governments can and should take responsibility for their actions in the past? Of course it's entirely possible and in fact probable that it was some or all of these, but I was just wondering if there was one particularly strong reason behind your - awesome - actions.

[deleted]8 karma

Above all I felt that his treatment was inhuman and I wasn't specifically motivated by the fact that the issue was homosexuality. It could have been that he was black.

What was clear was that Turing was a shining example of why prejudice ruins the world for everyone.

Baeocystin5 karma

I just want to say that you are an awesome individual for having done this, and if you're ever on the west coast here in California, I'd be happy to buy you a pint. Thank you for caring, and I mean that sincerely.

[deleted]5 karma

At the BBC in Menlo Park?

you_wanted_facebook3 karma

Given that it is a totally different government, with totally different beliefs in a totally different era, do you feel what you did was, in many ways, futile?

[deleted]4 karma

I don't believe it was futile, but I do understand that some people believe that this type of apology (and similar ones like the Stolen Generations or Shot At Dawn) are worthless.

[deleted]3 karma

Very nice. Wanna do one for Nikola Tesla in the united states with me?

[deleted]3 karma

I like you, and I approve of your actions. When I'm Prime Minister, shit like the treatment of Turing won't fly.

[deleted]3 karma

I want to say thanks, even if it doesn't undo the atrocity, it does bring to light the events.

Governments are wrong all the time, science is wrong all the time, and when we take their wrongs and force them on innocent people, the consequences can be dire.

[deleted]3 karma

Nothing to ask ... but after reading his biography years ago I just wanted to say thank you.

[deleted]2 karma

Good work!

I am sure he will be very pleased and spring immediately back to life. Genitals fully intact.

[deleted]2 karma

You are amazing. Please take all my karma (not just the reddit kind)

mmine12 karma

wonderful, I salute you for the wonderful things you have done! How hard was it to do this is my question!

Seraphimish2 karma

Can you prove that you're really not a machine?

[deleted]6 karma

!&$&@ fwe


Cheech472 karma

You sound like a bot. Are you a bot?

:P Seriously though, thanks for doing this. Turing's contributions need to be celebrated.

[deleted]9 karma

Would you prefer if I were not a bot?

[deleted]2 karma

Nice one. I attend Manchester University and frequent the Alan Turing building. You did something very noble, and I have the utmost respect for you.

[deleted]2 karma

FranklyImFinn2 karma

How's the Analytical Engine coming along?

[deleted]2 karma

It's a slow project. Don't expect big things for a while yet.

DeSanti2 karma

Dear dr. Graham-Cumming,

I have some short questions to ask if you'd be gracious enough to oblige.

  1. Was it hard organizing such a campaign, did the University administration itself actively endorse such an endeavor?

  2. Did it catch on immediately or was there a slow start at first before receiving attention?

  3. Has anything else besides an apology been done to rectify/honour mr. Turing?

  4. Do you feel this has been one of your biggest accomplishments?

Thank you for indulging with your time and also a thank you for your efforts.

[deleted]5 karma

  1. Which University? I don't believe I had contact with any universities about this and I don't work for one.

  2. No, it had a slow start. Full story is here:

  3. Next year will really be the answer to that as it's Turing's centenary and many events are planned.

  4. No, although it is up there.

pete17292 karma

Did you ever have a particular moment when you ran into someone who was ignorant of the tragedy and then when informed was reluctant to aknowledge the wrong done to Mr. Turing?

Also; Thank you.

[deleted]2 karma

Not that I recall, although some people thought that the apology campaign was a bad idea.

[deleted]2 karma

I don't have a question, but I would like to thank you for what you've done. The way Turing was treated despite all he'd done (not just for Britain and the allied powers, but for science, mathematics, and technology in general) is disgusting and his death was a true tragedy.

[deleted]2 karma

Although he's made computer scientist wannabes's lives hell ever since he invented those damned machines, this guy virtually invented computer technology (in addition to saving lives during WWII). It's a shame he's not better known to the public (well there's the Turing Award but ...)

Good job Jgrahamc !

punkamena2 karma

1) Does Bletchley Park offer tours? 2) Will the influx of Google cash change it in any fundamental way?

[deleted]2 karma

  1. Yes

  2. I have no idea how much cash Google has given. You'd have to ask them about that and the impact.