Review by C.J. Bunce

Math?  When am I going to use that in the real world?

Not every mathematician is eccentric like Alan Turing was.  Yet the standout math wizards that make it to the screen have included the likes of math geniuses John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), making you think a pattern exists–that quirky is a pre-requisite to mathematical genius.  We discussed before here at Andrew Wiles, the modern-day problem solving genius who solved Fermat’s Theorem.  Wiles seemed teetering on the edge of sanity as he locked himself away to solve a seemingly impossible math riddle, as documented in the brilliant NOVA film, The Proof.

The common tie between Nash, Hawking, and Wiles is the pursuit of the theoretical.  Fermat’s Theorem was merely a puzzle, sitting untouched for hundreds of years with no real-world application.  The average person doesn’t want to take the time to understand the practical significance of math theory, of solving math problems, and theorizing about scientific answers to the many ways we ask the question “why?”  The story of Alan Turing is different, and his story may be a key to spread understanding of what mathematicians can do to a wider reach, as explored in the holiday weekend release The Imitation Game. 

Mark Strong Benedict Cumberbatch

If you’ve studied World War II or seen the Gregory Peck World War II film Twelve O’Clock High, you’ll recall the unrelenting pounding Allied forces were taking in the middle of the war, losing bombers day after day, flying missions with no end in sight to keep up the momentum against Germany.  It was a job that had to succeed–failure was not an option.  While politicians strategized, generals planned raids, and soldiers fought and died, Alan Turing was trying to build a machine that would break the code machine called Enigma that the Nazis were using to communicate.  Hidden in the open, in front of the world, over encrypted radio waves, were instructions between German commanders and field forces on all their movements.  It’s the practical nature of what Turing accomplished that might sell some on the potential relevance of math.  The fact that his “Turing machine” was the predecessor to the modern computer should attract anyone to this fascinating story.

Continue reading