Mount students Joseph Appleton and Christian Winkle presented a small talk entitled “The Imitation Game” on Nov. 20 at 3:30 p.m. in the Coad Science Building. This 30-minute presentation focused on the life of British mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, who is the focus of the highly anticipated film “The Imitation Game.”
Juniors, Appleton and Winkle began their presentation by showing the trailer for the film, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch from “Sherlock,” Charles Dance from “Game of Thrones,” and Keira Knightley. This upcoming film on the father of artificial intelligence will be released in select theaters on Nov. 28.
As the film is based on a true story, Appleton and Winkle discussed Turing’s life and his significance in World War II. Born in 1912 in London, Turing, depicted by Cumberbatch, was considered a child prodigy for his aptitude in mathematics. At the age of 24, he created the Turing Machine, which could compute essentially anything that was computable.
During World War II, Turing worked at Bletchley Park where he and other Allies encrypted German messages sent from an Enigma machine, a German encryption device. Using an Enigma machine, there could be a total of a quintillion possible combinations for encrypted messages.
By explaining two examples, Appleton and Winkle then demonstrated how Turing was able to crack the German Enigma code. Using the deduction method, Turing created the Bombe machine, which could quickly and accurately decrypt a message in 20 minutes. Considered to be the first computer, the Bombe decoded all possible combinations in less than two years.
Although he had such a prominent role at Bletchley Park, Turing lost his security access when police discovered he was having an affair with 19-year-old Arnold Murray. As homosexuality was illegal at the time, he chose to be chemically castrated instead of going to jail, and he was found dead in 1954 with cyanide in his stomach. The exact details of his death are still unknown as it probably wasn’t a suicide, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the persecution of Turing in 2009.
Appleton and Winkle decided to give a presentation on Turing because in their opinion, he is the most monumental figure in the history of computer science. According to Appleton, “Without his ideas, his quest for knowledge, and his drive for unearthing the now-common ‘secrets’ of computing, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
This was just one of the many small talks held throughout the year. Small talks are part of an informal colloquium series on topics related to both mathematics and computer science.