Turing

“Turing” is a play about the last days in the life of English mathematician Alan Turing.

Alan Turing (1912-1954) has made many important contributions to mathematics and logic, and is considered one of the fathers of computers and the father of Artificial Intelligence. He was instrumental in breaking the “Enigma” code of the Nazis during WWII, a feat that allowed the Allies to defend their supply lines across the Atlantic and, ultimately, win the war. Two of Turing’s most important contributions to computing are his seminal paper on computable numbers and his paper on the “Imitation Game”. In the former he expands on Gödel’s incompleteness theorem; by assuming a logical machine Turing proved that there is no systematic way of knowing in advance whether such a machine could prove something (a mathematical theorem) to be true or not. In the latter, he envisaged a game whereby a human interrogator queries a “person” without knowing a priori if the person is a man or a woman. Turing showed that the only conclusion that the interrogator could make with regards to the person’s sex would be via his/her answers. Similarly, by replacing the “person” with an intelligent machine Turing argued that if the interrogator could not tell by the answers he got whether the “person” was human or mechanistic then the machine must be regarded as “truly intelligent”.

The play takes place between mid-May and Whit Monday 1954, the day Alan Turing took his life by eating an apple which he had poisoned with cyanide. It has been two years since he was convicted for his homosexuality and a year since he finished the hormone therapy ordered by the court. He is a haunted man, undergoing psychotherapy and writing dream books under the guidance of his friend, the Jungian psychoanalyst Franz Greenbaum. Living in a semi-detached Victorian house in Wilmslow he is visited by old friends. Then one night he is visited by the memory, or the ghost, of Christopher Morcom, his fist love. Events unfold in the background of a brewing Cold War and H-bomb testing, until the fatal weekend when Turing’s life unravels and he must reconcile the contradictions that haunt him. If there is free will, he must exercise it; and death seems to be the only option left.

Read my notes on the play here.