The smartphones, desktop, laptop and notebook computers upon which most in the 21st century have grown dependent-which in truth also run the engines of our modern society-likely would not exist if it weren’t for the little-known genius Alan Turing. Born in London, England 100 years ago, this brilliant mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist not only laid the foundations for modern computing, he cracked the Nazis’ secret naval Enigma code, turning the tide of World War II against the Germans.
This unsung hero was also an openly gay man at a time when the vast majority of gay people were deep in the closet. "Codebreaker," the new documentary, is currently removing the veil that has obscured Turing and his dramatic contributions to history and modern technology.
In addition, rising star Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title detective on BBC’s Sherlock and the central villain in this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, has been signed to play Turing in another upcoming dramatized biography.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is among the experts interviewed in "Codebreaker" who attest to Turing’s revolutionary genius. Turing began to develop computers from the theoretical to the actual in 1948, with the intention of "putting something like a human consciousness in an inorganic machine." In this regard, Turing is also considered to be the father of artificial intelligence.
Sadly, Turing would not live to see his vision realized. He was arrested on charges of gross indecency with a younger man whom Turing had accused of burglary. The authorities’ investigation of the burglary led the discovery of said affair, making that the focus rather than the crime committed against him.
Homosexuality was still illegal in Great Britain at the time and Turing was convicted in 1952. As a condition of his sentencing, he was forced to undergo chemical castration through hormone replacement therapy. This was, in a cruel irony, the same abusive technique that the Nazi doctors Turing helped to defeat had subjected many Jewish men to in the concentration camps.
The physiological and psychological effects, combined with the intense public disgrace, drove Turing to take his life in 1954 at the age of 41.
The British government formally apologized for its mistreatment of Turing, but not until 2009, 55 years after his death. Today, Turing is increasingly revered for his mathematical brilliance and advanced technological vision, his heroism in the fight against Nazi Germany and his pioneering honesty about his homosexuality.
If he could be "naïve," as one commentator describes Turing in "Codebreaker," he can also be regarded more positively as optimistic, even if to a fault.
Patrick Sammon, executive producer and creator of the documentary "Codebreaker," hadn’t heard of Turing before he came across his story while visiting the Smithsonian Institute in 2004. "It was a long road," Sammon said of his film’s development during a recent phone interview with The Rage Monthly. "I’m on my third career now, after being a TV reporter and documentary filmmaker for PBS, with another detour leading the Log Cabin Republicans."