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Alan Turing, Autism & his legacy #daretobedifferent #autisticandproud

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

Dear Connections, it has been sometime since I have had the opportunity to blog on LinkedIn. Sadly, work and academic commitments have limited my ability to talk about the topics that matter to many of you.

I have been reflecting a lot recently about Alan Turing and the legacy that he has left upon our society. Particularly for those who are autistic and looking for employment in industries that appear to have limited knowledge of autism and its nuances. For me personally what has intrigued me the most about Alan Turing is that for decades he was ostracised as a man who had dared to be gay in a country that at the time demonised homosexuality. Yet, it has appeared in recent times that Alan Turing has undergone something akin to a renaissance. In 2013 Alan Turing was finally and in my view rightly given a posthumous pardon for having been convicted of being a homosexual man in 1950's Britain. Personally, Alan Turing's complete restoration to the genius he should have been fettered as, was Chris Packham's oratory brilliance on the BBC's Icon of the 20th Century in February of this year. This accolade that Turing rightly received shows that attitudes towards those who are different in our society are evolving.

However, in order to better understand Alan Turing, the man, the code breaker and the genius. It's essential that we go back in time to where it all started for him. During the early years of WWII, Nazi Germany had conquered most of Europe, they seemed invincible and an amphibious invasion of Great Britain seemed all but inevitable. It was his ability to decipher complex German war codes from a machine known as Enigma that would change the face of the war and would undoubtedly save thousands of lives in the process.

By cracking the German codes, Turing and his team at Bletchley Park were able to save the forewarn the Allied Armies on land and at sea of German military manoeuvres. At the end of WWII, Turing was awarded an OBE, yet his work was so sensitive that it would remain a secret till decades after his death.

At war's end Turing spent the next few years on working on a machine known as ACE which was widely seen as the first detailed design of a stored-program computer. However, his design of ACE would not be completed until after his death. Turing's other notable influence was in the field of Artificial Intelligence or AI as it is commonly known today. Dubbed the Turbochamp it lacked the power to be properly supported by a computer. Yet, Turing's invention of the Turbochamp is widely seen as the seminal prototype of the beginnings of AI on our lives. The chances are that the computer you might be typing on or the phone you might be sending emails on. They are all directly influenced by Turing's seminal works and his ability to push the boundaries of what was possible in 1940s and 50s Britain.

However, Alan Turing was not only gay he also had high functioning Autism known as Asperger's Syndrome. In Great Britain in the 40 and 50s this was something that society neither knew about or tolerated. Differences were seen as unacceptable and in 1952 Turing was charged with committing an offence of gross indecency under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Less than two years later in 1954 Alan Turing was dead.

What I find personally troubling by this is that it is the very sons and daughters of those who ostracised Alan Turing who now fetter him as a national hero. Yet, their forefathers actions put a halt to the wonderful work that Alan Turing was doing in the field of future technologies and AI.

Only, in the last decade have tech companies realised the potential of employing autistic people who display many of the characteristics of Alan Turing. Despite, this the fact remains that many autistic people's talents are not fully recognised in the way that they should be. SAP have brought in their Autism at work programme and I believe this is a blueprint that many other organisations should follow. It should not just be the tech sector that see's autistic people's strengths as invaluable for their organisations. It must be incumbent upon all organisations no matter what sector they are in to recognise and harness the potential that many autistic people undoubtedly have. Autism awareness training on its own will not change the perceptions of all organisations to what autism and its wonderful differences are. Only through a concerted programme of understanding and acceptance of autism will the hearts and minds of businesses' globally be won.

Organisations have a choice of recruiting clones of themselves or being bold and daring to be different and employing talented people with autism into their organisations. There are many talented autistic people out there they just need the right opportunity to be able to harness their potential. Dare to be different and you might come across the next Alan Turing for your organisation and the rewards that come with it could be immeasurable.

Please stay tuned for more blogs in the coming months. As always like, comment and share my work with your networks.


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