I cannot sit still while a great human being is viciously persecuted out of history
The film "Enigma" is a ridiculous and offensive pile of crap.
The lead code breaker at Bletchley Park was the brilliant Cambridge mathematician,
logician, co-inventor of the digital computer and all round amazing genius, Alan Turing
FRS (1912-54). ("FRS" stands for "Fellow of the Royal Society", a
distinction Turing shares with Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose.)
Turing was homosexual (which is something else he shares with Isaac Newton). He was
driven to his early death by homophobic bigotry and paranoia. Yet without him, and his
breaking of the German Enigma code early in the War, the Allied forces would have found
defeating Nazism much more difficult, if not impossible, and certainly at the cost of many
more deaths over and above the eventual horrendous carnage.
That Turing is not more well known is a great injustice. In the fields of Mathematical
Logic and Computer Science Turing is justly revered. Early in his career he settled one of
a set of famous mathematical conjectures made by another great mathematician David
Hilbert. To do so Turing invented what is now called the "Turing Machine". (The
other Hilbert conjectures related to Turing's were settled by Kurt Godel.) The Turing
Machine is a fundamental construct of the classical theory of computation. After the War
Turing set about designing and building a digital computer. Along with the mathematician
John von Neumann, Turing is responsible for the beginning of the Information Age in which
we live today. His amazing realisation of the possibility and power of machine computation
was directly inspired by his work at Bletchley Park on the Enigma "bomb"
devices. Along the way Turing also founded the field of Artificial Intelligence with his
landmark paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (Mind, Vol. LIX, No. 236,
1950) in which he invented the well-known "Turing Test".
Mathematicians and computer scientists continue to be inspired by Turing's archive.
Study of the archive indicates he had conceived of what today computer scientists call a
"neural net". Before his death he was trying to discover the underlying physical
and chemical mechanisms of biological morphogenesis. He was "ahead of his time"
all his life. I suggest you consult the archives of the Scientific American magazine.
Turing's pivotal role at Bletchley Park belatedly came to light when the paranoia of
secrecy was relaxed 30 years after end of World War II. By breaking the German Enigma code
early in the War, of which the Germans remained ignorant until the War's end, Turing was
as important as any Colonel or General for the defeat of Hitler, in fact more so since the
benefits of knowing exactly what the Germans were planning from the beginning of the War
gave a substantial advantage to the Allied forces across all of the "theatres of
war", an advantage that the Allies desperately needed. Turing saved the lives of
those who later brutally persecuted him.
The Nazis foolishly believed, right up to the utter ruin and defeat of their ridiculous
thousand year "Third Reich", that the Enigma code was unbreakable. That was a
misguided and costly presumption but only because of Alan Turing.
"Alan Turing: The Enigma", Andrew Hodges, Burnett Books, London, 1983
"The Cambridge Quintet: A Work Of Scientific Speculation", John L. Casti,
"Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid", Douglas Hofstadter, Penguin,
"The Emperor's New Mind", Roger Penrose, Oxford University Press, 1989
Extract from Andrew Hodges’s review:
"The PR puffs put out by the production company further confuse the issue by
referring to Turing's work and his role as founder of modern computer science. The
intention seems to be to latch on to Turing's fame and importance to boost publicity for
the film, yet to eliminate the inconvenient Turing from the story told in the film itself.
It also leaves viewers with the suggestion that in some way Jericho is 'really' Turing,
which if anything is even more offensive, given that he has a completely different
personality. In particular, Jericho's story is a rip-roaring heterosexual drama with much
jealous, violent action and a femme fatale, as different from Turing's world as it is
possible to imagine. (Alan Turing was a shy gay man who at this point in 1943 was on the
verge of full self-acceptance and a very modern-minded attitude of self-disclosure). An
underlying assumption is perhaps that the world of science and mathematics is fair game
for grave-robbing in a way that would not be countenanced in politics or literature; that
all mathematics, science and engineering is a grey blur of people whose incomprehensible
lives and ideas can be regarded as interchangeable.
Some people may think that it is valuable to have a film which illustrates morsels of
mathematical work. I certainly cannot take an absolutist view, having acceded in the
production of 'Breaking the Code' out of my biography of Alan Turing. But I am inclined to
conclude that in the dangerous and basically impossible task of welding fiction and fact,
it is essential to keep some basic grip on authenticity in thought and ideas. Props and
technical details can be brilliantly lit while still shedding darkness on central
Alan Turning Alan Turning