Guest post by Pender M. McCarter, Trinity College (1968), Senior Public Relations Counselor, IEEE-USA/Washington

Codebreaker publicity image

A scene from the movie “Codebreaker” about the life of Alan Turing.

Alan Turing has been hailed as a digital Darwin, an Einstein and a Newton who helped to “catapult civilization in to the digital age.” The British mathematician laid the groundwork for everything we do with computers today, according to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The Turing Machine incorporated all the basic aspects of computer input and output. His 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” posited that computers can be programmed to mimic human behavior. And at the end of his life, Turing wrote about pattern formation in biology, what he called morphogenesis, that could be observed in animal stripes and spirals and even exist in ecosystems and galaxies.  Turing is best known for leading the British Bletchley Park code breakers team that cracked Germany’s Naval Enigma Code, helped end World War II, and saved perhaps millions of lives.

Yet until recently Turing’s contributions have been little known or appreciated outside of the sci-tech community. And his personal life as a gay man has generally been glossed over. In 2012, the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, hundreds of events have been held worldwide. A new film, Codebreaker, presents Turing’s personal and professional life without flinching, including how his sexual nature contributed to his extraordinary achievements and tragic downfall.

The drama documentary emphasizes that the support and encouragement Turing enjoyed with other eccentric and brilliant technologists at Bletchley Park motivated and sustained him. When he lost this community after World War II, at a time when there was a craving for normalcy and scant tolerance for non-conformists, Turing learned how unforgiving the world could be.

The drama scenes in Codebreaker center on the psychotherapy sessions Turing participated in during the last 18 months of his life.  In these final months, Turing faced persecution as a gay man under the same 19th century British laws that were used to prosecute Oscar Wilde.  In 1954, at the age of 41, Turing committed suicide leaving us to wonder about potential future accomplishments  in a more accepting and tolerant time. In 2009, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized posthumously to Turing: “We’re sorry; you deserved so much better.”

Codebreaker will be screened at the Duke Center for LGBT Life (02 West Union Building) on Monday, Oct. 29, from 7-8:30 p.m., with underwriting from IEEE-USA, the Washington-based office of the IEEE, the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology. The drama documentary will be introduced by Executive Producer Patrick Sammon, who will also answer questions about the film.

Here’s a link to the trailer: