On Saturday I went to the UK premiere of “The Creator”. An Abandon Normal Devices preview commissioned by the Cornerhouse and Creative England, coinciding with Alan Turing’s 100th anniversary and the Olympic Torch’s visit to Manchester.
“The Creator” explores the legendary myth behind Turing using CGI to take us into his mind and last days. We see him lay on a therapy couch playing out an imagined conversation with his Jungian psychiatrist just before his death. The film plays out the myth of Turing spinning on the tragic fairytale end, blurring together the tides of history and myth. Al and Al the creators of “The Creator” explore the extreme contrast between arriving from a point of rational mathematics, to the heightened sense of the world and otherness Turing experienced during his time lived in Manchester. Here the narrative shows the computers as sophisticated “thinking machines” who want to discover their originator, juxtaposed against their originator’s mind that has been warped with suicidal thoughts through his arrest and conviction for being gay. The film was fitting in helping me reflect on what I know about Turing, what a fascinating figure he was and the injustice of his end in life.
I didn’t know of Turing till I was healthily into double figures, in fact the first time I think I’d heard of him was when I walked through Sackville Gardens in Manchester and saw his statue sat on the bench. I learnt that Turing is often hailed as the father of modern computing and that he was chemically castrated for being gay. I became morbidly fascinated by the fact that he took his own life through eating an apple laced with cyanide, because of the obvious Snow White connotations and on a more personal note because I knew someone who was collecting the seeds from apples because of the cyanide they contain to try and kill cancer. The story of Alan Turing is such an intriguing mythologised tale that my quest to know more about him and his work will definitely continue and undoubtedly it will do for a much wider audience with the centenary and also the rumours that Leonardo Dicaprio is set to play him in a new biopic!
Turing was only 41 years old when he died, born in 1912 he worked as a code breaker during World War II. It was in 1948 he came to Manchester to work in the Maths department at the University. Here he created what we know as the “Turing test”, a test for measuring how intelligent a machine is. Turing’s idea was that a computer could be said to “think” if a human could not tell it apart from another human being through conversation. It was in 1952 that Turing was investigated by the police for his relationship with another man, he was faced with the choice between a prison sentence or oestrogen injections that would cause him to become impotent and grow breasts. Turing was left unable to work and found dead in 1954 with a half eaten apple by his bedside table. The cause of Turing’s death was cyanide poisoning and the conclusion was that he had taken his own life through eating an apple laced with cyanide , though the apple was never tested.
Now 58 years on, Turing’s death has been called into question again by Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland. The myth of Turing’s life and death will continue to be surrounded in uncertainty and speculation, because of the fascinating mind that carried out extraordinary creations.