Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

Nobody imagined anything of Alan Turing, born this day in 1912, but achieved the inconceivable task of breaking the “Enigma” cypher used by Nazi Germany.

His story is eloquently portrayed in the Oscar winning film, “The Imitation Game.” It is a movie about unorthodoxy (a common theme here as essentially the embrace of failure to conform)…

  • Unorthodox approaches to solving problems
  • Unorthodox managerial talent selection
  • Unorthodox sexual preference
  • Unorthodox gender roles in the workplace

It is literally a heroic tale of how unorthodoxy battles convention to do little less than save the world.  Unorthodox approaches saved western civilization, but did become his undoing in an age decades before Gay Pride Month celebrated those differences rather than tormented them.

Turing’s left a legacy of many dimensions. Of course, there is his historical legacy of cracking the enigma machine. He also left a scientific legacy as little less than the father of modern computer science. But my favourite is his philosophical legacy which will becoming more and more relevant in the age of increasing automation – the “Turing Test”. This subject is also explored in films like “I Robot” as well as the new hit TV series “Humans”.

The test was of true “machine intelligence” which specified that machine could only be deemed “intelligent” if a human submitted questions to it and another human. The tester would receive answers back, but he or she would not know whether the answers were from the machine or from the human. The machine would “pass” if the tester couldn’t figure out merely from the content of the answers which one was the machine.

Turing alludes to the test in the film’s interview with the Manchester police officer. He notes that one of the tricks to finding out a machine is that they don’t make mistakes. Maybe our failures will be the one thing that keeps us human.

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