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 Code, featuring 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 Enigma. Breaking the Code has been added to our collection of Free Movies Online.
And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!