Prometheus, a Titan god, was exiled from Mount Olympus by Zeus because he stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. He was condemned, punished, and chained to a rock while eagles ate at his liver. His name, in ancient Greek, means “forethinker “and literary history lauds him as a prophetic hero who rebels against his society to help man progress. The stolen fire is symbolic of creative powers and scientific knowledge. His theft encompasses risk, unintended consequences, and tragedy. Centuries later, modern times has another Promethean hero, Alan Turing. Like the Greek Titan before him, Turing suffers for his foresight and audacity to rebel.
The riveting film, The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum and staring Benedict Cumberbatch, offers us a portrait of Alan Turing that few of us knew before. After this peak into his extraordinary life, we wonder, how is it possible that within our lifetime, society could condemn to eternal punishment such a special person? Turing accepts his tragic fate and blames himself.
“I am not normal,” he confesses to his ex-fiancée, Joan Clarke.
“Normal?” she responds, angrily. “Could a normal man have shortened World War ll by two years and have saved 16 million people?”
The Turing machine, the precursor to the computer, is the result of his “not normal” mind. His obsession was to solve the greatest enigma of his time – to decode Nazi war messages.
In the film, as the leader of a team of cryptologists at Bletchley Park in 1940, Turing’s Bombe deciphered coded messages where German U-boats would decimate British ships. In 1943, the Colossus machine, built by engineer Tommy Flowers of the group, was able to decode messages directly from Hitler.
The movie, The Imitation Game, while depicting the life of an extraordinary person, also raises philosophical questions, not only about artificial intelligence, but what it is to be human. Cumberbatch’s Turing recognizes the danger of his invention. He feared what would happen if a thinking machine is programmed to replace a man; if a robot is processed by artificial intelligence and not by a human being who has a conscience, a soul, a heart.
Einstein experienced a similar dilemma. His theory of relativity created great advances in physics and scientific achievement, but also had tragic consequences – the development of the atomic bomb.
The Imitation Game will open Pandora’s box. Viewers will ponder on what the film passed over quickly. Who was a Russian spy? Why did Churchill not trust Stalin? What was the role of the Americans during this period of decrypting military codes? How did Israel get involved?
And viewers will want to know more about Alan Turing. Did Turing really commit suicide by biting into an apple laced with cyanide? Or does statistical probability tell us that Turing knew too much about too many things and perhaps too many people wanted him silent? This will be an enigma to decode.
The greatest crime from a sociological perspective, is the one committed by humanity against a unique individual because he is different. The Imitation Game will make us all ashamed of society’s crime of being prejudiced. Alan Turing stole fire from the gods to give to man power and knowledge. While doing so, he showed he was very human. And society condemned him for being so.