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Internet Trolls: Disconnect and Reflect on Alan Turing

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One of the world's greatest mathematicians and computer scientists would have been 100-years-old today. We are all in Alan Turing's debt. He was instrumental in defeating Hitler's forces in World War II, he created many of the core concepts of computer software and he is widely recognized as the father of artificial intelligence. For all the wonderful gifts that Turing gave us, however, he was treated horribly. Turing deserved to be loved and respected and instead, society criminalized his sexuality and medicated him with useless and harmful hormones that may have led to his tragically early death at the age of 41 in 1954.

If you want to learn more about this amazing man, the Archimedes of computer science, you can read a great blog post by Huffington Post UK blogger Philip Ellis: "Happy 100th Birthday, Alan Turing."

You can also check out the beautiful, animated turing machine doodle on Google's home page. (And do it quickly before Google takes it down!)

I, however, want to take a moment and talk about the trolls -- my pals on the Internet who derive so much amusement and lulz from tormenting people in cyberspace.

If Alan Turing was a young man today, he'd be on the Internet (like we all are). He'd have a Facebook account, he might post a video or two to YouTube, he might play some Xbox Live or Diablo III and leave some comments on a Huffington Post article. He would be that vulnerable, awkward, smarty pants that all trolls love to hate. He'd say or type something into a chat channel that sounded too smart, too earnest, too desperate for friendship. In other words, perfect troll bait.

As Saki Knafo wrote in "Anonymous and the War Over the Internet" (Huffington Magazine),

"Trolling is the art of deliberately irritating people until they flip out..."

Trolls have been know to push their victims so hard that they commit suicide. There are too many recent examples to cite, but that is what may have happened to Alan Turing. For many years it was believed that Turing killed himself after a year of what was essentially epic trolling by the British government. The only crime that Turing ever committed was being gay in a society where that sort of thing was fair game to the trolls that were in power at the time.

Trolling is no game. Lucky for you, Turing had already given us the ideas that made Facebook, Youtube, Diablo III and the Huffington Post possible before he was trolled. If he had been trolled earlier, perhaps he would have turned away from Computer Science all together and trolls would have to mock with pen and ink and sternly worded letters to the editor.

So trolls, take a moment of your day and disconnect from the Internet just to get a taste of the ultimate fruit of your labors: The lulz are just the appetizer. The main course is a less free, less fun, less social society. The British government reformed its trollish behavior years ago. Maybe it's time for you to grow up too.

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