Thursday, November 20, 2014

"The Imitation Game" - (film)

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) with his Bombe

At the start of this film there's a frame which states: 'Based on a True Story'. You may recall a similar claim in 'Fargo' with equal claims to verisimilitude. Key events are distorted and re-arranged to support a BBC-1 level of soap-operatic muppetry. Putting such histrionics to one side, I'm actually most aggrieved by the portrait of Turing as an odd Aspie misfit (telegraphed with clunking prose and stereotypical vegetable obsessions).

A more daring and imaginative film would have tried to convey just how clear and sophisticated Turing's vision was, allowing him to see how to think about Enigma, how to break it. But this is a film aimed at dull people who can't imagine the intellectual life of those smarter than themselves. Since most of the characters in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park were pretty smart or they wouldn't have been there, they have to be played as over-emotional, drama-queens. It's embarrassing.

A note to the gay rights hijackers: the most important thing about Alan Turing was not that he was gay.

Update: Peter Woit can tell you more about why this is so bad here.

From the Wikipedia article:
Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, pioneering computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and marathon and ultra distance runner. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. Turing's pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles. It has been estimated that Turing's work shortened the war in Europe by as many as two to four years.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, among the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman's Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, when such behaviour was still criminalised in the UK. He accepted treatment with oestrogen injections (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death a suicide; his mother and some others believed it was accidental. In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated." The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.