Pop Art Superstar

Andy Warhol is a name that is synonymous with Pop Art, a visual art movement that flourished in the 1960s. Hundreds of exhibitions of Warhol’s works have taken place all over the world; this year it was Tate Modern’s turn to display his paintings. To make their exhibition different from others, Tate Modern has focused on Andy Warhol’s life as much as his work, exploring who he was as a person, not just an artist. Due to popular demand (and Covid-19 restrictions), Tate has extended the Andy Warhol exhibition to 15th November 2020.

Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 6th August 1928 to Ondrej (1889-1942) and Julia (1892-1972). His parents were emigrants from Mikó, Austria-Hungary (now Slovakia) and his father worked as a coal miner. Ondrej and Julia’s eldest son died before they moved to America, where they had three more children: Pavol (Paul), Ján (John, 1925-2010) and Andrew.

Warhol did not have the easiest of childhoods. At eight years old, Warhol suffered from Sydenham’s chorea and spent a great deal of time in bed drawing. When Warhol was 13, Ondrej Warhola passed away in an accident and left all his savings to his youngest son, and assigned his older sons the responsibility to ensure Andy attended college. True to their word, Warhol attended the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, graduating in 1949 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design.

At the age of 21, Warhol moved to New York, permanently removing the “a” from the end of his surname. His mother joined him a couple of years later, remaining with him for the rest of her life. As a commercial artist, Warhol worked for magazines, such as Glamour, where he became known for his simple line drawings. 

People commented on Warhol’s ability to convey emotion in his line drawings, but Warhol was keen to develop his techniques further. He developed a “blotting” technique, which involved applying ink to paper and blotting the ink while still wet. Blotting was a rudimentary process of the silkscreen printmaking method for which he is most known.

Warhol wanted to be famous and taken seriously as an artist, but working for magazines was not going to help him achieve his goal. During the 1950s, he exhibited some of his artworks in exhibitions taking inspiration from new forms of art by other artists, for example, Jasper Johns (b.1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) who used a combination of paint and recognisable objects in their works.

Using stencils to aid his accuracy, Warhol started including well-known brands in his paintings, most notably Campbell’s soup. Warhol exhibited his Campbell’s Soup Can for the first time in 1962. He produced many versions of the can, including a canvas featuring 100 identical cans of beef noodle soup. Although painted by hand, Warhol used stencils to speed up the process and help him maintain accuracy. Whilst the painting may seem random in the 21st century, Warhol was trying to express a message about the importance of art and consumerism in the post-war era. It was also a reference to his childhood when a can of Campbell’s Soup was something precious. Warhol and his brothers grew up eating watered-down ketchup with salt for soup.

Warhol was pleased with the effectiveness of using stencils but wanted to speed up the process even more. He started to adopt the technique of screenprinting, which allowed him to reproduce an image onto a canvas multiple times. He discovered he could also print pre-existing photographs from magazines and newspapers in a similar way, playing around with the colours and amount of ink to create different effects.

Green Coca-Cola Bottles is an example of Warhol’s use of screenprinting. He also used acrylic paint and graphite to add some details by hand. Coca-Cola did not have the same connotations as Campbell’s Soup did to his childhood, but Warhol was trying to convey a message:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

Andy Warhol, The philosophy of Andy Warhol: from A to B and back again (1975)

Using well-known images and icons helped Andy Warhol stand out and attract attention. When Marilyn Monroe (1926-62) passed away from a drug overdose, Warhol produced his Marilyn Diptych. On one canvas, Warhol printed several coloured prints of a publicity photo for Monroe’s 1953 film Niagara, and on the opposite canvas, did the same in black and white. Critics have added meaning to this artwork, suggesting it is a contrast between Monroe’s public and private life, or life and death.

Throughout history, artists have employed others to do some of the work for them; Andy Warhol was no different. Warhol sent his chosen images to a professional silk screen maker with instructions on size to produce the stencils for his work. These stencils printed the image, usually in black and white, onto a canvas pre-painted by Warhol. As time went on, he began to experiment with prints in a range of colours.

White Brillo Boxes is an example of Warhol’s coloured prints. Rather than canvas, Warhol used plywood boxes made by a cabinet maker, onto which he printed the logo and packaging details of the original boxes of Brillo scouring packs. This process turned the commercial design by James Harvey (1929–65) into an artform.

Warhol believed the purpose of art was for entertainment, and he aimed to paint to please people. Unfortunately, he also upset several people with his subject matter. Occasionally, Warhol used photographs from news reports detailing suicide, violence and car crashes, resulting in a mix of reactions. Using other people’s images also got Warhol in trouble. For his Flower series, Warhol used a photograph of hibiscus flowers from a 1964 copy of Modern Photography magazine and was subsequently sued by Patricia Caulfield, the photographer, for copyright infringement.

Warhol believed creating pop art was “being like a machine” because the process was mechanical and removed the artist’s personal touch from the outcome. He claimed “I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody,” meaning treat everyone equally. Warhol’s personal life, on the other hand, was far from machine-like.

Throughout his life, Warhol was uncomfortable with his physical appearance and had plastic surgery on his nose in 1957. Unhappy with the result, he experimented with fashion to transform his appearance. Self-conscious of his receding hairline, Warhol wore blond toupees, which he replaced with silver and grey ones as he got older.

During the 1950s, Warhol came out to the LGBTQ+ communities in New York, revealing his homosexuality. It was a difficult time for gay men because same-sex relationships were illegal in America. Nevertheless, Warhol got together with the poet John Giorno (1936-2019), who he met at an exhibition in 1962. Giorno became a prominent subject for Warhol’s work, particularly in his experimental film Sleep, a five-hour recording of Giorno sleeping. Not many people appreciated the film, but it was not the outcome of the project but the process that mattered most to Warhol, revealing his tender feelings towards his lover.

Warhol continued to make films with his associates until 1972. During this time, they produced over 500 unscripted films, ignoring all traditional methods of film-making. In 1963, Warhol set up an experimental studio called The Factory, which his lover at the time, Billy Name (1940-2016), decorated in silver paint and foil. Over the next few years, Warhol recorded the people who visited his studio, which he turned into a film called Screen Tests.

The people who visited The Factory, “superstars” as Warhol called them, were instructed to be themselves for the duration of the reel as though they did not know there was a camera. Although some of the “superstars” were already well-known, the film aimed to encapsulate Warhol’s maxim that “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

Edie Sedgwick (1943-71) was the most prominent actress in Warhol’s film, gaining success for her unique style and personality. She went on to star in more films by Warhol and other producers until her death from an accidental overdose at the age of 28. Other “superstars” included Susan Sontag (1933-2004), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Bob Dylan (b.1944) and Allen Ginsberg (1926-97).

Warhol’s first commercial success in the film industry was The Chelsea Girls, released in 1966. Directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey (b.1938), the film follows the lives of several young women who live at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. Many of the actresses were Warhol’s “superstars” from the Screen Tests.

Warhol announced his retirement from painting in favour of film making with a farewell show in 1965. Nonetheless, he continued to produce printed matter, such as magazines, posters and books, as promotional materials. He also designed record covers for bands, such as The Velvet Underground and Nico. Christa Päffgen (1938-88), known by the stage name Nico, took inspiration from Warhol’s film The Chelsea Girls, using the title for her debut album.

In 1967, Warhol was approached by an aspiring film writer Valerie Solanas (1936-88) who asked him to read through her script. He promised he would and did, but found it so disturbing that he pretended to have lost it when she contacted him later. Convinced Warhol had stolen her work, Solonas, later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, turned up at The Factory on 3rd June 1968 and shot him three times at close range. Warhol was rushed to hospital and declared clinically dead.

Miraculously, the doctors managed to revive Warhol, but he suffered severe damage to his lungs, spleen, stomach, liver, and oesophagus. Although they operated on him, the surgeons did not expect Warhol to live. Andy Warhol surprised them all by opening his eyes and starting the long road to recovery. One of the doctors remarked, “This man made his mind up he was going to live.”

Due to the severity of Solanas’ mental health, the judge only sentenced her to three years in prison. On her release, she stalked Warhol until caught and institutionalised. Warhol lived in fear that Solanas would attack him again and closed The Factory. He decided to pass most of his film directing to Morrissey and return to his “old art”. For a while, Warhol was a shell of his former self, or a “Cardboard Andy” as Billy Name dubbed him. Yet, when interviewed, Warhol was able to inject humour into his situation, comparing the stitches on his chest to a Yves Saint Laurent dress.

Compared to the 1960s, the 70s were a quiet decade for Warhol. He focused on several commissions for well-off patrons, including the Shah of Iran, Mick Jagger (b.1943), Liza Minnelli (b.1946), John Lennon (1940-80) and Diana Ross (b.1944). He also published a book,  The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, in which he expressed the idea “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Still suffering from the attempt on his life, Warhol received another blow when his mother passed away in 1972. Being a private, reticent man, Warhol did not tell anyone about her death, not even his long-term partner Jed Johnson (1948-96) who found out years later from one of Warhol’s brothers.

When not working on commissions, Warhol often asked other people for painting ideas. His art dealer suggested he paint a portrait of the most important person of the 20th century, Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Warhol liked the suggestion but insisted the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) was the most important man. At the time, Mao had just received a visit from President Richard Nixon (1913-94) and sold, or forced people to buy, over a million copies of his Little Red Book

“Everybody’s asking me if I’m a Communist because I’ve done Mao. So now I’m doing hammers and sickles for communism, and skulls for fascism.” Naturally, people wondered if Warhol was a Communist but, in reality, he took inspiration from communist graffiti on walls in Italy, for example, the hammer and sickle symbols of the Soviet Union. To prove he did not affiliate with the party, Warhol painted images of skulls to represent fascism, a form of far-right dictatorial power at the opposite side of the political spectrum.

In 1975, the Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino commissioned Warhol to paint a series featuring portraits of Black and Latin American drag queens and trans women. Rarely seen in fine art and not a community Warhol identified with, some people questioned the ethicality of the project. Nonetheless, Warhol took on the commission, hiring 14 models. Anselmino wanted Warhol to depict the dramatisation of gender, suggesting drag queens with 5 o’clock shadow, but Warhol deviated from the proposal to explore the glamour and personality of the models.

Most of Warhol’s models remain anonymous, but some have been named, such as American activist Marsha P. Johnson (1945-92). Born Malcolm Michaels Jr, Johnson self-identified as a drag queen and became a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and was popular with New York’s gay and art scene. Daily attacks of racism and homophobia caused Johnson’s mental health to suffer and, after a pride parade in 1992, the police found Johnson’s body floating in the River Hudson. Initially ruled as suicide, a head wound suggested murder.

Andy Warhol’s artwork and near brush with death made him an international celebrity. During the 1970s, he spent most evenings socialising with other well-known people, which he jokingly called his “social disease”. In 1986, Warhol hosted a chat show called Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, which played on his celebrity status and network. Many of the guests were up and coming musicians, such as Debbie Harry (b.1945) and Grace Jones (b.1948), and the English actor (Sir) Ian McKellen (b.1939).

Debbie Harry and Grace Jones both became subjects for Warhol’s paintings in the 1980s. Now known as the lead singer of Blondie, Harry used to daydream Marilyn Monroe was her mother and was “stunned” and “humbled” when Warhol painted her portrait in the style of the one he produced of her idol. As well as Harry and Jones, Warhol painted many celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton (b.1946) and Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). The latter was for a German gallery and reflected the concerns of the Cold War developing between the USA and USSR.

One of Warhol’s favourite “celebrities” to paint was the Statue of Liberty. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the statue arriving in New York as a gift from France, Warhol produced a close-up portrait of the statue’s face. Rather than using a photograph of the statue, Warhol used an image of a centenary biscuit tin and included the logo “Fabis” in the painting. In the background, Warhol covered the canvas with a military camouflage print to suggest that, although the statue represents freedom, wars still waged in the world.

The Statue of Liberty had a deeper meaning for Warhol. When his parents emigrated to the United States, they landed at Ellis Island, near the location of the statue. His parents’ names are listed on the “Wall of Honour” in the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Other people on the wall include Irving Berlin (1888-1989), Bob Hope (1903-2003) and Cary Grant (1904-86).

In the 1980s, Warhol experimented with his hairstyle – or wig style – creating what he called his “fright wig”. In self-portraits and photographs, the wig stands out, taking on the status of art in itself. His appearance was an icon and his hair as recognisable as his work, but his close friends knew this was only a facade for the public. In reality, Warhol was in severe pain and lived as an introverted individual. His self-portrait of 1986 reveals his gaunt face and poor health.

One of Warhol’s final works was Sixty Last Suppers (1986), which was part of a series commissioned by collector and gallerist Alexander Iolas (1907-87). Based on Leonardo da Vinci‘s (1452-1519) The Last Supper, Warhol exceeded expectations by producing over 100 variations on the theme, making it the most extensive series of religious-themed works by an American artist.

Speaking about the work, Warhol stated, “It’s a good picture… It’s something you see all the time. You don’t think about it.” Yet, it may have held more meaning for Warhol than he let on. The image depicts a group of men, something Warhol had never painted before. Although it is a Biblical scene, Warhol produced his versions at a time when the private lives of gay men were under scrutiny. Not long before working on the Last Supper series, Warhol’s previous partner Jon Gould passed away from an AIDS-related illness; the fact that, in this scene, Jesus was only hours from his crucifixion, may not have been lost on Warhol. With rapidly declining health, Warhol knew that he too was not long for the world.

Warhol’s Last Supper paintings were exhibited in Milan after which he reluctantly returned to New York for a gallbladder operation. Although a routine surgery, Warhol’s previous gunshot wound and declining health made the operation riskier – a factor that surgeons did not take into account at the time. Doctors fully expected Warhol to survive the surgery, but on 22nd February 1987 at the age of 58, Warhol passed away in his sleep from a sudden post-operative irregular heartbeat.

Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the pop art movement, but whilst this is an umbrella term for his work, it is not easy to categorise individual pieces. As one journalist for The Economist put it, Warhol is the “bellwether of the art market”. By focusing on his life as much as his work, Tate helped visitors to the gallery begin to understand the thought processes behind Warhol’s paintings and how he developed such a unique style. Andy Warhol’s work may not be to everybody’s taste, but he was certainly an intriguing individual. 

The Enigma: Ejwsf Zyhcx

Earlier this year, the Science Museum held an exhibition called Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security. From World War One to the present day, the exhibition explored the many forms of communications intelligence that have been used throughout the century. Visitors were able to see examples of past and present gadgets, read declassified documents, learn about GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and discover previously unseen artefacts. An exhibition about cyphers, however, could not be complete without a section about Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park codebreakers of the Second World War.

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Turing c. 1928 at age 16

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-54) was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist who is mostly remembered for his work with the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park where he helped to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma Code. The Enigma Machine scrambled the 26 letters of the alphabet so that the Nazi Party could send messages that could not be intercepted and understood. This resulted in pages full of gibberish, a bit like Ejwsf Zyhcx, which is supposed to be “Alan Turing” when put through an online enigma decoder.

Turing was born on 23rd June 1912 in Maida Vale, London, to Julius Mathison Turing (1873-1947) and Ethel Sara Turing (1881-1976). Turing’s father worked with the Indian Civil Service in Chatrapur, India, however, wished his sons, John and Alan, to be brought up in England.

From a very young age, Turing’s potential genius was evident and his parents enrolled him at St Michael’s day school in St Leonards-on-Sea, near Hastings where the boys stayed with a retired Army couple when their parents were in India. At 9, Turing began attending Hazelhurst Preparatory School before being sent to Sherborne School at the age of 13, a boarding school in Dorset. Although Turing’s aptitude for numbers was appreciated by the teachers at his primary school, it did not earn him any respect at Sherborne, where more focus was given to classical studies.

Despite his school’s attitude to scientific subjects, Turing went on to achieve first-class honours in mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge in 1934. The following year, he was elected a fellow at King’s and, in 1936, published his first paper On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem. Computable numbers were problems that could be solved by human mathematical clerks, who at the time were known as “computers”.

The Entscheidungsproblem (decision method) was proposed by the German mathematicians David Hilbert (1862-1943) and Wilhelm Ackermann (1896-1962) in 1928. They believed a machine could be invented that would be able to determine whether a mathematical statement could be proven. To put it more simply, “Is it possible to prove this mathematical statement?” The machine would respond with either a yes or a no. Turing, on the other hand, believed such a machine to be impossible.

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A Turing machine realisation in Lego

Turing’s paper essentially pointed out that a manmade machine can only achieve what it has been programmed to do by a human. Since a human’s mind is limited, it would not be possible to produce a machine that could solve mathematical problems that a “human computer” could not. To illustrate this, Turing proposed a theoretical machine, now known as the Turing Machine, that could solve through the use of special symbols a mathematical statement that a “human computer” had the power to achieve too. The Turing Machine demonstrated the fundamental logical principles of the future digital computer.

After the publication of his paper, Turing continued to study, this time at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he obtained a PhD in 1938. As well as mathematics, Turing studied cryptology, which proved to be vital to his future career. Returning to England that summer, Turing joined the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), now known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). A year later, Britain was at war in Germany and Turing moved to the organisation’s wartime headquarters at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Shortly before the Second World War officially began in Britain, the government had been given details from Poland about the Nazi Enigma Machine used to encrypt radio messages, which a small team of Polish mathematicians had succeeded in deducing. Led by Marian Rejewski (1905-80), the Polish cryptologists had developed a code-breaking machine called the Bomba, which helped them crack the Enigma code. Unfortunately, the German’s changed the code, rendering the Bomba useless.

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Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park, once a Victorian manor house situated on 58 acres of land, was acquired by the government in 1938 for the GC&CS. Renamed Station X, Alan Turing was one of 200 workers to begin working there after the outbreak of war. Crossword experts and chess players were sought and hired throughout the following years to assist the decyphering work. By 1944, 9000 people were employed at Bletchley Park, the majority being women.

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Bombe machine

One of the first things Turing and his colleagues achieved was the Bombe machine, based on the details they were given about the Bomba. The Bombe successfully decoded large amounts of German military intelligence that had been encrypted by the Enigma, which was passed on to British army officials. As the team became more adept at using the machine, they were able to increase the number of messages they intercepted. Eventually, they were decoding 84,000 per month, which equates to two messages every minute.

As the personnel at Bletchley Park grew, the manor house became too cramped for everyone to work in comfortably. In order to accommodate people, machines, storage and so forth, dozens of wooden outbuildings known as Huts were constructed within the grounds. Turing and his associates worked in Hut 8, where they successfully cracked the Enigma code.

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Enigma Cipher Machine

Since there was more than one Enigma machine, the code-breakers at Bletchley Park needed more than one Bombe machine. Unfortunately, there was a lack of sufficient resources to build the machines. In 1941, Turing wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) to explain the situation and the importance of the machines. Churchill reportedly went straight to his chief of staff and gave the order to “make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done.”

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Lorenz SZ42

Enigma was not the only type of machine the Germans used during the Second World War. The more sophisticated Lorenz cypher machine, nicknamed Tunny by the British, was used to transmit messages between the Axis countries. In 1942, Turing developed the first systematic method for breaking these messages.

The Tunny machine encrypted messages by converting individual letters into binary code, for example, A became 11000 and B 10011. To make the messages even harder to crack, the machine blended in other letters to mask the binary code.

William “Bill” Tutte (1917-2002) was the first at Bletchley Park to notice a systemic pattern in the code and began to identify the letters that did not belong to the encrypted message. Building upon this, Turing developed a method of breaking these codes by hand, however, the process was slow and it was impossible for people to keep up with the number of messages they were intercepting.

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Colossus Computer

In 1944, Turing had finally completed a machine that was able to help the team translate the Tunny machine. Known as Colossus, Turing’s machine was a form of early computer involving 1600 vacuum tubes. The machine’s job was to strip the surplus letters from the messages, after which they were passed onto hand-breakers to translate the remaining code.

By the end of the war, there were nine Colossus machines, or Colossi, which helped to speed up the decryption process. The messages sent out by the Tunny machine revealed the German army’s plans, positions, supplies and conditions. The intelligence gathered was crucial to the success of the Normandy D-Day landings on 6th June 1944.

All the operations that took place at Bletchley Park were kept secret, even after the war ended. It was not until 1974 that the world began to learn about their achievements. Nonetheless, Alan Turing was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his code-breaking work.

“It is a rare experience to meet an authentic genius … Alan Turing was such a genius, and those, like myself, who had the astonishing and unexpected opportunity, created by the strange exigencies of the Second World War, to be able to count Turing as colleague and friend will never forget that experience, nor can we ever lose its immense benefit to us.”
– Peter Hilton, British mathematician

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After the war, Turing moved to Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond where he stayed until 1947. He had been recruited by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to create a digital computer. Turing produced designs for the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), the first concept for a stored-program computer, i.e. a computer with memory. Although the concept was entirely feasible, the NPL thought it too difficult to attempt and built a smaller machine instead. As a result, Turing missed out on the opportunity to be the first person to create a digital stored-program computer. This honour was achieved by the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory in 1948.

Disappointed with the lack of ambition at the NPL, Turing moved to Manchester where he was appointed Reader in the Mathematics Department at the Victoria University of Manchester. The following year he became the director of the Computing Machine Laboratory where he helped work on another digital stored-program computer, the Machester Mark 1. He also designed the programming system for the first-ever marketable electronic digital computer, which was eventually built in 1951.

Turing is credited as a founding father of artificial intelligence and modern cognitive science. He proposed a test to determine whether a machine could exhibit intelligent behaviour, i.e. can machines think? The Turing Test, as it is now known, would distinguish original thought (human) from “sophisticated parroting” (programmed machine). Turing argued that a machine can only be called intelligent if it reacts and interacts like a sentient being.

The Turing test, nicknamed the “imitation game” involved a human and a computer to answer a set of questions. A human interrogator would then attempt to determine which answers belonged to which test subject. A computer’s intelligence was rated by its probability of being mistaken for a human.

Turing’s idea was inspired by a few philosophers, particularly René Descartes (1569-1650) and his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” Another philosopher, Denis Diderot (1713-84) stated, “If they find a parrot who could answer to everything, I would claim it to be an intelligent being without hesitation.” Turing believed by the year 2000 a computer “would be able to play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than a 70-per cent chance of making the right identification (machine or human) after five minutes of questioning.” So far, no computer has come close to this standard.

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Today, a reversed form of the Turing Test is regularly used on the internet. When logging into some websites, people are often asked to complete a CAPTCHA, which stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”. This test usually requires someone to enter a sequence of slightly distorted letters and numbers. This is something a computer would be unable to achieve, therefore, humans are effectively being asked to prove they are not a robot. This prevents computer hackers from using computer software to break into people’s online accounts.

In 1948, Turing and his colleague David Gawen Champernowne (1912-2000) began writing a chess program for a computer that had not yet been produced. Named the Turochamp after its creators, the game was tested on existing computers, however, they lacked enough power.

In March 1951, Turing received his highest honour when he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London. Unfortunately, Turing’s personal life was soon under scrutiny and all his successes rendered meaningless.

Back in 1941, Turing had proposed marriage to Joan Clarke (1917-96), a colleague at Bletchley Park. The engagement, however, was short-lived, ending soon after Turing admitted he was homosexual. Joan was unfazed by the revelation and thought they could make their relationship work, however, Turing was too ashamed to go through with the marriage.

Being gay was no longer a punishable crime, however, homosexual acts were still a criminal offence. In 1952, it came to light that Turing was in a relationship with 19-year-old Arnold Murray and they were both charged with “gross indecency”. Turing was given the choice between imprisonment or probation, of which he chose the latter, however, his criminal record meant he could never work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) again.

By opting for probation, Turing had to agree to undergo hormonal treatment to reduce his libido. For a year, Turing was injected with synthetic oestrogen, which caused breast tissue to form and rendered him impotent. Although he had lost his security clearance, he was able to continue his academic work throughout this process.

Sadly, Alan Turing was found dead at the age of 41 on 8th June 1954. A post-mortem revealed he had died the day before as a result of cyanide poisoning. It is thought, although not proved, he had ingested a fatal dose of cyanide that had been injected into an apple. His death was recorded as suicide. Some biographers have suggested Turing was re-enacting a scene from his favourite film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Some people have questioned the coroner’s verdict, suggesting Turing’s death was not suicide but an experiment gone wrong. Turing had set up an experiment in a small room in his house, which involved the use of cyanide. Turing may have inhaled a considerable amount of the poison during the day, causing him to collapse later that evening. Although a half-eaten apple was found at Turing’s side, it was never tested for traces of cyanide.

Generally, it is assumed Turing’s death was suicide, which is attributed to the hormone “treatment” he received at the hands of the authorities for being gay. Nonetheless, the injections had ended a year before his death and his friends claimed he was in good spirits. This cleared the authorities from any blame.

Naturally, conspiracy theories have evolved suggesting Turing was murdered by the secret services for knowing too much about cryptanalysis. At the time, homosexuals were also regarded as threats to national security, which adds a certain weight to this theory.

Regardless of the cause of death, Turing’s prosecution for being gay has become infamous, causing Prime Minister Gordon Brown (b.1951) to apologise for Turing’s “unfair treatment” on behalf of the British Government in 2009. Queen Elizabeth (b.1926) followed suit in 2013 by granting Turing a royal pardon.

“Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”
– Gordon Brown, 2009

Since the 1990s, Alan Turing has been honoured in various ways, particularly in Manchester where he was working at the end of his life. In 1994, the A6010 road was renamed Alan Turing Way, and the bridge the road goes over is now known as the Alan Turing Bridge.

In 1999, the American weekly magazine Time listed Turing as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. The article pointed out that “The fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.”

On 23rd June 2001, the Alan Turing Memorial was unveiled in Sackville Park in Manchester. The sculpture, which depicts Turing sitting on a bench with an apple in one hand, was created by Glyn Hughes from cast bronze. On the bench, a series of letters reveal the phrases “Alan Mathison Turing 1912–1954” and “Founder of Computer Science” as though encoded by an Enigma Machine. “IEKYF RQMSI ADXUO KVKZC GUBJ” The plaque on the ground in front of the statue is written in English, saying, “Father of computer science, mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, victim of prejudice” This is followed by a quote from the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970): “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.”

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To mark the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth in 2012, the Alan Turing Memorial was visited by the London 2012 Olympic Torch. It also came to light that Turing attempted to enter the previous London Olympics but lost out to other candidates. Yet, in 1948 he had finished a cross-country race ahead of the future silver medalist and his best Marathon time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 3 seconds, was only 11 minutes slower than the winner in the 1948 Olympic Games.

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In 2019, the Bank of England revealed Alan Turing will feature on the new £50 notes when they switch from paper to polymer in 2021. Turing was selected from a long list of experts from the field of science, including Mary Anning, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking and Ernest Rutherford.

Thankfully, Alan Turing will be remembered for his achievements rather than the events that marred the end of his life. Turing has been immortalised in films, books and plays. He features in Ian McEwan’s 2019 novel Machines Like Me and inspired William Gibson’s 1984 Neuromancer. In 2000, he was the main focus of a Doctor Who novel, The Turing Test.

Alan Turing’s life was portrayed by Derek Jacobi in the stage show and film Breaking the Code, and in 2014, Benedict Cumberbatch starred as Turing in The Imitation Game with Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, which focused on Turing’s success at Bletchley Park.

Dozens of universities across the world have statues of or rooms named after Alan Turing. He will always be remembered and admired by students, particularly those involved with mathematics, computer science and cryptology.

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
– Alan Turing