Eric Schmidt: 'The Imitation Game' Will Help the World Recognize Alan Turing's Genius (Guest Column)

Eric Schmidt Portrait - P 2013
Christopher Patey

Eric Schmidt Portrait - P 2013

The executive chairman of Google argues that the film is "a monumental step" in recognizing "one of the world's most innovative minds and courageous heroes."

Editors Note: On Feb. 12, The Weinstein Co. will kick off a special college screening program of The Imitation Game at top computer science universities around the country, beginning with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, writes of the debt that the computer industry owes to Alan Turing, the subject of the film.

Every year around this time, the film community, the media, and movie fans around the world look back at the past twelve months and debate and discuss which of the many great films and performances stood above the rest and deserve to be honored — and why. Normally I am not much more than a spectator, not necessarily following so carefully how the nominations process and awarding of the gold statues plays out. However, this year I found myself more interested and focusing on one particular film — about an extraordinary man who is one of history's truly unsung heroes.

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician and cryptologist whose unparalleled brilliance led him to crack the Nazi’s so-called unbreakable Enigma Code. Turing created a machine whose artificial intelligence did what no group of men, no matter how many or how smart, could have conceivably accomplished. His artificial intelligence machine was what many call the first precursor to modern day devices, making him the grandfather of computers.  According to some experts, Turing was responsible for ending World War II perhaps as much as two years early and saving thousands of lives as a result... so Turing clearly deserves our eternal thanks. However, he also deserves our apologies, for despite all of his remarkable, life saving contributions, Turing was arrested in 1952 and charged with the criminal offense of “gross indecency," since the practice of homosexuality was illegal in the U.K. at the time His persecution for being gay affected Turing irreversibly, and two years later, the genius and war hero took his own life by eating a cyanide-laced apple. This film is a strong and important step towards giving proper credit and embracing one of the world's most innovative minds and courageous heroes.

Back in September, I co-hosted Charlie Rose’s annual Aspen conference where we had the incredible opportunity to screen The Imitation Game. The gathering is a formidable one whether you consider yourself an insider in the technology world or not, bringing together so many visionaries in one place, at one time. It was impressive to see the collection of talent and brainpower who attended the screening: my Google colleague Larry Page, PayPal founder Max Levchin, media titan Arianna Huffington, entrepreneur Yuri Milner and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to name a few. The reactions to the film were overwhelmingly positive, but I realized we were missing a very key point of Turing’s story: he had not only saved lives some seventy years ago, but he played a critical role in shaping what our lives are like right now. So many of us there that day realize that Turing invented the computer — an element of our modern world that we rely upon so much as part of our day-to-day lives. Those who utilize this technology, but don’t engineer it, think of computers as a more recent phenomenon, but it really started over 60 years ago with Turing. It took screening the film, surrounded by so many people who work in this business, to properly realize his impact. Like I said, sometimes it takes a special audience being deeply affected by the subject matter to clarify what makes a movie important and to me, The Imitation Game is the most important and best film this year.

See more The Making of 'The Imitation Game'

This point was reinforced back in November, when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg co-hosted a Silicon Valley screening. Once again, some of the biggest names in the technology sector showed up — including Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. After the end credits rolled, Zuckerberg explained that without Turing, none of the people in the room that night would have the jobs they were doing. Coming from someone like him, those were some strong words. Google, Twitter and Yahoo!, soon followed suit in welcoming the film with special showings because to all of us, it’s obvious that Turing’s legacy and lasting legacy and impact are something to be celebrated.

What makes The Imitation Game stand out among the many films of the past year is that it’s helping the world to recognize just how much Turing's genius insight and vision truly affected all of us. For all Turing created and all he sacrificed, this film is a brilliant, monumental step in the right direction at giving credit where credit is due, albeit posthumously, to one of the world’s most innovative minds and courageous heroes.