Dangerous Knowledge & Breaking the Code: Two Films about Alan Turing on His 100th Birthday

Today marks what would be the 100th birth­day of Alan Tur­ing, one of the great math­e­mati­cians of the 20th cen­tu­ry, who laid the foun­da­tions for com­put­er sci­ence by devel­op­ing the con­cepts of “algo­rithms” and “com­put­ing machines.” (See his sem­i­nal 1936 paper “On Com­putable Num­bers.”) Tur­ing also played a key role in break­ing the Nazi Enig­ma code dur­ing World War II. In 1952 he was con­vict­ed of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and chem­i­cal­ly cas­trat­ed by the British gov­ern­ment. Not long after, in 1954, he com­mit­ted sui­cide. Although the British gov­ern­ment has since offered an apol­o­gy for bring­ing Tur­ing to ruin, it has stead­fast­ly refused to par­don him.

To pay trib­ute to Tur­ing, we’re bring­ing back from our archive two films explor­ing Tur­ing’s life and times. Above, we first have Dan­ger­ous Knowl­edge, the BBC’s 90-minute doc­u­men­tary that takes a close look at four math­e­mati­cians — Georg Can­tor, Lud­wig Boltz­mann, Kurt Gödel and Tur­ing – whose think­ing pro­found­ly influ­enced mod­ern math­e­mat­ics but also drove them (or so the pro­gram argues) to insan­i­ty and even­tu­al­ly sui­cide. Part 1 is above, and Part 2 is here.

And then to learn more about Tur­ing’s exploits as a World War II code break­er, you can watch the 1996 BBC film Break­ing the Codefea­tur­ing Derek Jaco­bi as Tur­ing and Nobel Prize-win­ning play­wright Harold Pin­ter as the mys­te­ri­ous “Man from the Min­istry.” Direct­ed by Her­bert Wise, the film is based on a 1986 play by Hugh White­more, which in turn was based on Andrew Hodge’s 1983 book Alan Tur­ing: The Enig­maBreak­ing the Code has been added to our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

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