We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done. —Alan Turing
We are honored to have Codebreaker as our FDL Movie Night discussion with the film’s executive producer Patrick Sammon as our guest. Nominated for the 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary, Codebreaker is the story of British mathematical genius Alan Turing whose vision shaped the world we now live in, and who was prosecuted and persecuted by the British courts for his sexuality under the same statutes as Oscar Wilde decades earlier.
Turing–whose work during World War II at Bletchley Park, the National Codes and Cipher Centre, had broken the German’s Naval Enigma code and turned the tide of the war in the Allies favor–was forced to choose between a year in prison or an experimental treatment to “fix” his sexual orientation after police, during the course of burglary investigation, discovered Turing was gay.
Turing’s 1936 paper, “On Computable Numbers,” introduced the world to the idea of computers, and became the cornerstone for our digital world. Fourteen years later he published “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” a cornerstone paper in the field of artificial intelligence. In 1952 Turing was arrested, pleading guilty to the crime of “gross indecency with a male” to minimize the harm to his career.
Rather than go to prison, Turing endured “organo-therapy” hormones which drove him to despair and grief, affected his intellect, and turned his once fit and trim body bloated and fat. After his conviction, he was stripped of his high level security clearance and his top secret government consulting work came to an abrupt end. He committed suicide on June 7th, 1954, just two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday by taking a bite out of a cyanide laden apple.
Combining interviews with both Turing’s associates from Bletchley Park, others who knew him, his biographer, and those affected by his seminal work in conceiving computing and artificial intelligence (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak among them) with dramatized footage of Turing’s life after his conviction, Codebreaker gives us a tragic story of doomed genius, a man who broke not only wartime codes, but also his society’s code by admitting his sexuality — and was destroyed for it.
In 2009, the British government apologized for their treatment of Turing. 2012 was the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth and in December of that year, Stephen Hawking joined a growing list calling for the government to pardon this hero of the modern age (and frankly they should pardon the other men convicted under the same statute as well). Thanks to the machines and models he conceived, Turing’s recognition is growing exponentially as both a founder and visionary of our modern era, and as symbol of the harm outmoded attitudes towards sexuality can cause.
For those interested in seeing Codebreaker the film as a unique social media-spawned, crowd sourced distribution mode, Theater On Demand, is available. The film opens on February 1st across the U.S., and anyone who want to see it can create an event through TODpix.com. If at least 50 tickets are sold, the film will screen. (It is fitting that Codebreaker relies on the technology developed out of Turing’s work).