Thoughts on “The Imitation Game”

If you want a historically accurate portrayal of the life of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game might not be the film for you. The major contours of Turing’s life are covered, which is to say, you will get a story with roughly the following plot:

Mathematical genius and figure widely regarded as the father of modern computer science provides invaluable military intelligence that leads to victory in World War II by breaking the German Enigma code. He is criminally prosecuted for homosexuality and commits suicide.

However, once you get past those, the similarities between the actual Alan Turing and the one portrayed in The Imitation Game start to break down.

The overarching theme of the whole film is a sort of analogy between some police officer’s evaluation of Turing, and the Turing Test (“The Imitation Game”), which is a famous problem in philosophy of mind and computer science. The idea is that Turing was giving an account of his life to this officer, and from those responses, we were supposed to judge what sort of thing Turing was—machine, man, etc.

I suppose this is why they played up Turing’s social awkwardness as much as they did. They wanted to shoehorn the whole film into an analogy to the Turing Test. I suppose it also introduced some conflict, and they thought they could sell movie tickets with Cumberbatch doing his “I’m a terrible person but you like me anyway because what I do is so useful” routine. (C.f. BBC’s Sherlock, IT WORKED ON ME I GUESS.)

Overall, I am glad I saw it, and I recommend it. It was entertaining. Cumberbatch’s Turing was likeable, and I felt like (inaccuracies aside) it honours the memory of Turing in its own way. It’s somewhat historically inaccurate, and it’s tied together with a fairly hamfisted attempt to unite the story to Turing’s theoretical work, but that might be okay. I feel like modern movie-goers have an easy time separating what they see in the cinema from what they take to be true about history anyway.

One last note about accuracy: At the end of the film, the captions on the screen seem to indicate that computers used to be called “Turing Machines.” This is not quite the case. Turing Machines are abstractions that exist in thought experiments for philosophers and computer scientists. That said, I would be okay with it if we did start calling computers “Turing machines.”

Hard disc full

My computer’s hard disc has been bumping up against its upper limit for months, and so I’m tempted to just buy a bigger internal hard disc. I could probably get a disc with a much larger capacity for less than $100.

The only thing that’s stopping me is that I think my venerable old MacBook (whose name is “Fermat,” by the way) is about to die. It has been dying a slow death for a long time. The fan makes a “k-tuck-k-tuck-k-tuck” sound when the computer’s running, and when it’s thinking really hard, it makes a sick sort of “whoosh” sound.

When I close the lid, it goes to sleep, but only momentarily. As soon as the fan shuts off, the optical drive spins up again (making a “meh-nah-num-dee-umm” sound) and the computer wakes up. Then it remembers that the lid is closed and it tries to go back to sleep. The cycle then resumes (“meh-nah-num-dee-umm”) and continues until the battery dies, which doesn’t take too long these days. (“Condition: Replace Soon”)

This means that I have to shut down my computer entirely if I want to go somewhere with it. This isn’t such a big deal, but then sometimes when I push the button to turn on my computer, it takes a scarily long time for the screen to turn on and the optical drive to spin up. It doesn’t do this every time, but when it does, I think that I’ve turned my computer on for the last time.

Those are the most serious things, but there are a few weird little problems as well. When I have the computer plugged in to my external monitor, I always turn the brightness on my laptop screen all the way down. Sometimes, when I leave the room with the computer running, I’ll come back after a few minutes to find the screen on my laptop will be turned on. When I touch the mouse or a button on my keyboard, it suddenly switches the laptop screen off, as if my laptop remembered that it’s supposed to have been that way the whole time, and I caught it doing something it shouldn’t have.

Due to the passage of time, the plastic casing has chipped, cracked and is peeling slowly off the computer, and the little pulsing white light that’s supposed to indicate that the computer is sleeping does not work. The DVD burner is flaky at best, and the whole computer runs very hot. By that, I mean it reaches a very high temperature.

Other than that, it works just fine.

My computer has a lot of character, and we’ve been through a lot together, but since I’m afraid that it will die soon, I don’t know if I want to invest the money in a new hard disc. But then if I can squeeze another year or two out of this computer by simply investing $100 for a new hard disc, then that would be a good investment.