The eight Oscar nominations for “The Imitation Game” will no doubt encourage more people to watch the film and learn about the debt we owe to mathematician Alan Turing. After all, we all use a Turing machine in our daily lives. Today, we call them computers.
He developed the machine for decrypting the Enigma machine that was used by the Nazi military. In the movie he asks the intriguing question: “What if only a machine could defeat another machine?” Indeed it took his machine to defeat the Nazi Enigma machine, especially since the settings on the Enigma machine were changed everyday.
The movie has a few historical inaccuracies that didn’t need to be added. The real story of Alan Turing and his machine are fascinating enough. Some have said that Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing, is like a superhero. His skills are not physical but mental. The action in this movie is in the mind. When he figures out what is necessary to program his machine and cracks the first code, you are tempted to cheer just like you would when a Marvel superhero defeats a villain.
The difference is, this is reality. The film ends with the estimate that cracking the Enigma machine probably shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives. That is the legacy of Alan Turing and his machine.
You might wonder why you haven’t heard of Alan Turing. There are two reasons. First, his work was classified, so he received no public recognition. He probably deserved a Noble prize. Second, he was a homosexual and persecuted for his actions. In the 1950s, he was convicted of indecency and stripped of his security clearance.
There is the remaining irony that the machine he developed now allows governments to do electronic surveillance of us today. Decoding and defeating the Nazi war machine was an important goal. Advanced technology today came from his machine and allows governments to decode us.