Is Imitation Game a factually correct movie about Alan Turing?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 04, 2020 03:59 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 04, 2020 03:59 PM

The movie was accurate in that he was a key player in decrypting Enigma messages. The movie was inaccurate on pretty much all the details of how the messages were decrypted and Turing’s relationships with his colleagues at the time.

The first big inaccuracy was in how Enigma was initially cracked. Polish cryptanalysts cracked Enigma when everyone else thought it was impossible. They taught the French and British their methods, and the British began using them at Bletchley Park. One British cryptanalyst said that the efforts to crack Enigma as Bletchley would never had gotten off the ground without the information from the Polish code breakers. Turing later extended the Polish methods to work in a different of circumstances.

Second, the cryptanalysts at Bletchley saw success immediately, and the plan to build the code breaking machine (bombe) was never in doubt. The Polish had already successfully built and used them and had even given the British blueprints to make their own. Eventually Turing and others (notably Welchman) built new machines to implement a new method that was needed to adapt to changing circumstances. Turing did not have an adversarial relationship with his colleagues or superiors at Bletchley, and did not have the social problems as described in the movie. When they wrote a letter asking Churchill to further fund their work, they did it together.

Next, and most notably for me, the movie made it seem as though Turing’s big breakthrough was to implement a known plaintext (“crib”) attack on the messages. His machine didn’t work until he realized he should be using words or phrases he knew would be in the messages. This is ridiculous. Of course all code breakers knew that known plaintext attacks were possible. The key was in the mathematics that allowed them to implement this sort of attack on encrypted messages. The idea that Turing built a machine without understanding the central focus of what it would do, then added on that functionality at the end is beyond implausible.

Last, Turing did not build the machine with his own two hands. He and others designed the logic of the machine, and it was built by those with expertise in building (Harold Keene, I believe, or at least he designed the engineering part of it). The machine was named “Victory” (not “Christopher), and was not related to the Universal Turing Machine, or computer.

Honestly, I could go on and on, but these are the top few points of difference.

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