Thank you to all involved in making The Imitation Game film – writers, director, producer, cast and crew, etc. It is a truly insightful watch, a most excellent movie. What it taught me anew was the moment of history, when war became won not by physical, material force, but by power of abstraction, by calculated information. Horrendous propaganda was met on its own terms, breaking new ground. The film too is a product of this, with shaping mythology a never-ending task – much like the mathematics profiled.
Alan Turing’s ‘math’ (for he studied at Princeton which clearly had consequences) – arguably the pinnacle of British science in the twentieth century – cohered a team that defeated Nazi dictatorship and the leading German science of the day: there’s was rocket technology, e.g. (more on this later).
The Imitation Game portrays gargantuan subtle shift in the World War II balance, in a thoroughly believable way, and the lesson here is one every human being will benefit from learning. Immensely.
For we are all drawn ever-deeper into the technical result of Turing’s practical and theoretical work, every day – such as your ability to read this review, over ICT.
The greatest mystery of our lives unfolds before our eyes – ‘the Universal Machine’ that Alan Turing uniquely conceived.
That The Imitation Game focuses liberally on Turing’s divergent, non-mainstream sexuality, that could yield no progeny, mostly misses the point, the meaning of his life. One could ask why; or just provide an alternative script..
Creative Britain (no, Hollywood!) proudly relates its 1940s propaganda war victory in The Imitation Game which endeavours to extend the role: many are sacrificed for the benefit of the most, purportedly, in this scenario. Turing’s ‘character flaw’ is magnified to explain his reported suicide, in the dramatisation of his life, where much more plausible is his Cold War murder. If Turing did tell his story to the Manchester detective as the movie depicts, then he had breached the state secrecy demanded of him (also shown in the movie: “If any of you breathe a word of this you’ll be hanged for High Treason”) and signed his own death warrant, effectively.
The question is, though, which secret service assassinated Turing – the British or the American? Or both together? Despite wartime integral connection, in 1954 both were building hegemony against Stalinist Russia. Bigger than this collaboration, they were at commercial conflict with each other by then too, founding competitive computer industries out of times of deep economic depression and destruction. So the United States probably had most to gain from Turing’s premature departure. A fair assumption to make, given what was at stake and what wasn’t. Turing’s post mortem report says “Death appeared to be due to violence.”
But The Imitation Game maintains form and sets up the metaphors, determinedly, of the received version of Turing’s death: the cyanide spilt in the break-in and the apple shared as chief symbolic means of disassociation remedy. In this way it regurgitates the myth of a fatally flawed personality ending itself. Too convenient. Turing wasn’t unhappy. Turing knew too much.
The Imitation Game falls short of telling Turing’s main story, of documenting his real significance – the system value he created and lost. Whereas the Soviet access to academic English intelligence was part of Allied victory and explained in the film, post-war this became intolerable. Where doubt may have existed over Turing’s promises and stability, at that time could his secrets be left at risk? No, and there was likely gain in their extinguishing.
What The Imitation Game omitted, as what happened next after the breaking of Enigma, was the probably the more important part of cryptographic history. And that was how Allied signals became superior.
The trans-Atlantic cable, dating back to telegraph days, could be tapped by Nazi submarine and obviously was – in the same way that Enigma-encoded radio messages could only be sent in plain sight, on public airways. What the secret breaking of Enigma-code allowed was a higher form of encryption to be invented, using the mathematical algorithms that Turing pioneered. It was these new mechanically induced algorithms that gave birth to modern digital computing. Their immediate value was to securely encode trans-Atlantic signals, and these helped essentially to co-ordinate fighting resources and quicker, less expensively, win the war.
Turing’s time in America, as well as advancing his algorithmic capacity, eased the way for placing cypher and decyphering equipment at either end of the trans-Atlantic cable. This was the world’s first reproduced manufacture of a programmable computer, based on the Polish Bombe model prototype perfected by Turing and his team at Bletchley Park. It necessitated immediate shipping to the United States, which stopped any notion of copyright at step one, and the modern computer era was born – Made in the UK, and with the task of encryption and decryption over the first-ever leg of internet cable converted as its founding application – truly the century’s technical breakthrough, which the next century would open still at siege to.
But if the Germans could never access what was transmitted inside the Atlantic data cable at that time, neither could the Russians ever be allowed to.
Alan Turing’s liberal university background created doubt intolerable at the height of the McCarthyist witch-hunt: “Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in 1950 on charges of stealing atomic bomb secrets for the Soviets and were executed in 1953.” And, the culmination of his work, built on top of Princeton US mathematical experience – Turing’s algorithmic discoveries as intellectual property – had already been transferred; under wartime conditions bankrupting of Great Britain (duress). More than just a security risk, by the 1950s Alan Turing had been made ‘expendable’.
The story of the American space program, into which German scientists were shipped wholesale post-war, is very well known: success built upon that of V1 and V2 rocketry that rained automaton terror on Great Britain during The Blitz, though ultimately failing. – To where would the yet unseen impact of the V3 be directed?
The modern computer industry is the inside, even more influential story – only the contributing country was not a wartime enemy this time, but the main United States ally held over a barrel. Capitalism’s new headquarters gathered in resources cunningly from all over the globe, enabling imperial expansion on a whole new scale.
Alan Turing’s sacrifice was one further price to be paid by a long-running but finally eclipsed British Empire: trade secrets kept safe, down-payment on Cold War security.
Postscript: Author Roger Bristow, “72, who was a founder member of the Bletchley Park trust, is a former mayor who has spent almost 30 years researching Turing and his work. He has used the post-mortem evidence to develop a theory that the scientist was carrying out secret code-breaking work before his death. And he says the FBI wanted him dead because he held ‘damaging information’ on Russian agents who had managed to get themselves into top American Government jobs.”
 ICT = information and computer technology
 What ‘The Imitation Game’ didn’t tell you about Alan Turing’s greatest triumph, 20 February 2015 http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-imitation-game-didnt-tell-you-about-alan-turings-greatest-triumph/2015/02/20/ffd210b6-b606-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html “Alan Turing.. did as much as anyone to create the digital revolution that continues to erupt around us” – well-researched article with academic video clips, which include a still of Turing’s post mortem report: “Death appeared to be due to violence.”
 The computer algorithms that run our lives, 23 February 2015 http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/20168287/the-computer-algorithms-that-run-our-lives “Seeta Gangadharan is a Senior Research Fellow at the Open Technology Institute in Washington DC. She discusses the automated systems, known as algorithms, that are replacing human discretion more and more often. Algorithms are a simple set of mathematical rules embedded in the software to complete a task. They allow google to rank pages according to their relevance and popularity when people conduct an internet search, and allow internet sites like Amazon and Netflix to monitor our purchases and suggest related items. But open technology advocates say there is not enough oversight of these algorithms, which can perpetuating poverty and inequality.” – 20-minute audio.
 Alan Turing: Inquest’s suicide verdict ‘not supportable’ http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-18561092 “the investigation was conducted so poorly that even murder cannot be ruled out.. ‘In a way we have in modern times been recreating the narrative of Turing’s life, and we have recreated him as an unhappy young man who committed suicide. But the evidence is not there.'” 26 June 2012
 Was Alan Turing’s death MURDER not suicide? http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/alan-turings-death-murder-not-4799480 12 December 2014
“a number is computable if its decimal can be written down by a machine” – Alan Turing, On Computable Numbers, With An Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, 1936 http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/Turing_Paper_1936.pdf
CHAPTER 23 “The third possibility, that Turing was murdered, might seem far-fetched, yet stranger things have been done in the national interest. There was a Cold War on. Could there have been an ‘operation ruthless’ against Alan Turing himself, now that he had managed to get himself classified as one of Europe’s security risks? In 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy had initiated America’s hysterical ‘McCarthy era’, and by the end of 1953 McCarthyism was in full spate. McCarthy declared that homosexuals who were privy to national secrets threatened America’s security.35 In Britain, David Cornwell—better known as novelist John Le Carré—worked for both MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and the 1960s. Cornwell told the Sunday Telegraph in 2010: ‘We did a lot of direct action. Assassinations, at arm’s length.’36 ‘We did some very bad things’, he said. There is a bare possibility that Turing was murdered, but in terms of evidence the most that can said be said for this hypothesis (apart from the curious business about the shoes) is that Turing was clearly on the security services’ radar during the previous year’s ‘Kjell crisis’, described in Chapter 10.” Ref.36 ‘British spies carried out assassinations during Cold War, claims former agent Le Carre’, Mail Online, 29 August 2010. http://www.beck-shop.de/fachbuch/leseprobe/9780199639793_Excerpt_001.pdf
Was Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing murdered? Shocking claims made by former Milton Keynes mayor http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/local/was-bletchley-park-code-breaker-alan-turing-murdered-shocking-claims-made-by-former-milton-keynes-mayor-1-6467202
http://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/was-alan-turing-murdered-author-roger-bristow-says-yes.html “Turing had been doing some secret work just before he died. Roger Bristow maintains that the German Enigma code cracker was killed by the FBI because he held secrets that were either intensely embarrassing or damaging. The author further said that before he died, Alan Turing had been working on operation Verona, a top secret affair, which dealt with the deciphering of wartime radio signals for the identification of Russian agents sent as spies in the United States. According to him, several of these agents were able to penetrate prominent positions in the government including one who became a personal assistant to then US President Franklin Roosevelt.” Ref. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2870499/Was-Alan-Turing-murdered-New-book-claims-Enigma-machine-genius-didn-t-kill-all.html 11 December 2014
A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing, 19 December 2014 http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/19/poor-imitation-alan-turing/ “even if you believe that Turing was driven to his death, The Imitation Game’s treatment of his fate borders on the ridiculous.”
Decoding Apologies to Alan Turing: Is Post-Mortem Pardon Meaningless? 31 December 2014 http://www.thecritique.com/articles/decoding-apologies-to-alan-turing-is-post-mortem-pardon-meaningless/ “In particular, the circumstances surrounding Turing’s prosecution and death have long been suspicious. Is there more to the story, and might it require government cooperation and a team of investigative historians to get to the bottom of it? I do not mean to stoke conspiracy, the McCarthy-era paranoia about ‘perverts’ going rogue and trading military secrets for gay Soviet sex makes one wonder.”
The Long Road to ‘The Imitation Game’ http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/the-business/the-long-road-to-the-imitation-game “Director Morten Tyldum and writer and producer Graham Moore tell Kim Masters how the journey of making their Oscar-nominated film about codebreaker Alan Turing started years ago at a fateful cocktail party. Former sitcom writer and novelist Graham Moore and Norwegian director Morten Tyldum may seem like an unlikely pair to be behind The Imitation Game, a movie about a British mathematician in World War II. They were brought together by an independent producer who snatched up the script after it languished at a studio for a year. Now, their indie about Alan Turing is up for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best screenplay. Today, Alan Turing is considered the father of computer science. But the genius who broke Germany’s Enigma code during World War II–saving countless lives as a result–was never publicly recognized for his achievements during his lifetime–or for many years after his death at age 41 in 1954. Rather he was persecuted for homosexual acts, which remained illegal under British laws that weren’t wiped from the books until 2003. Turing was granted a posthumous pardon in 2013.
In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a very eccentric Turing in a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor. The film garnered eight nominations total, including including best picture, best director and best screenplay. But for years, it looked doubtful that the film would ever even get made. Our guests, director Morten Tyldum and writer and producer Graham Moore, may seem like an unlikely matchup on this project. The Imitation Game is Tyldum’s first film in English and former sitcom writer Moore’s first film period. They tell Kim Masters about the film’s creation story, from how it grew out of a chance run-in at a cocktail party, to a “lost year” at Warner Bros, to a hungover casting conversation held via Skype. Throughout it all, they were determined to stay true to their vision of telling the story of a genius and a hero, a man who was unfairly persecuted, and whose achievements had been kept secret for far too long.” – 20-minute KCRM.com audio.
Alan Turing: The Enigma biographer website.
AlanTuring.net computing history archive.
The Turing Digital Archive TuringArchive.org
Wondering why anyone should care to write this? – There are legion amateur computing fans and everyday users not even knowing that they are (upon smartphones and touchpads). We don’t all look up to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates for inspiration, and often find, when we do look, Alan Turing’s versatile AI ideas to deify instead.
The closing scene of The Imitation Game, positing a broken Turing in love with Victory machine (somehow renamed “Christopher”) as pitiful and demented substitute for true human bond, is worse than fiction. It is sheer insult, making fetish of the individual.
The gratuitous fantasy can only serve to provoke comments like “F___ you, Weinstein. Just what are you trying to hide?” …
[Text under development – more editing likely.]