Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Hodges

13
Feb
15

The Enigma author Andrew Hodges talks Alan Turing brilliance on The Ravi Report

Hodges_AlanTuring movie tie inAs most of you may already know, the highly acclaimed film, The Imitation Game and the gifted cast which include the superb Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew William Goode and Downton Abby star Allen Leech have been winning a slew of awards over the past few months topping it off with eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture. After seeing the film twice, I can tell you that it has a great shot at winning!

The movie is based on the astounding book, The Enigma (Princeton University Press)  written by the brilliant author Andrew Hodges. The book goes profoundly deep into the life of brilliant mathematician Alan Turning who with his natural intelligence and relentless efforts, broke the highly secretive and seemingly impenetrable Nazi Enigma Code during World War II.  In addition to cracking the code, the mathematical genius was known as the founding father of the computer  and the first to introduce the concept of artificial intelligence. The world owes him BIG according to Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, who recently profiled Turning’s contribution to the computer field  in The Hollywood Reporter.
Turing came to Princeton University from 1936 to 1938 where he was a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics at Princeton. He wrote his dissertation under Professor Alonzo Church (1903-1995)  and earned his doctorate in 1938 at the age 25.
Turning  was then offered a position as a research assistant at the Institute For Advanced Study at a salary of $1,500 a year but he declined and returned to England where he subsequently joined the effort at Bletchley Park to break secrete code with the assistance of the electro-mechanical machine Bombe developed during WWII by Turing.

<Alan Turing received his PhD from the world famous Princeton University in Princeton, NJ>

Alan Turing received his PhD from the world famous Princeton University in Princeton, NJ

When I finally finished reading the book (it’s about 700 pages long folks!), I was simply amazed at what a genius Turing was and how much he contributed to the world of computers and math. From his life as a young scholar to cracking one the most difficult codes in the history of wars to the brutal behavior he faced from the British Government because of his personal identify, was all immensely interesting to me. The Enigma is a book that  everyone should read  to get a closer look at the historical aspect of such a brilliant man who left his mark in the world in more ways than one.

The Ravi Report was fortuitous enough to interview Hodges recently in Princeton at the wondrous Princeton Public Library  where the famed author came to discuss his book and personal thoughts on Alan Turing.

<Ravi Yande with acclaimed author Andrew Hodges>

Ravi Yande with acclaimed author Andrew Hodges

RR: Many people know more about the personal and intricate life of Alan Turing because of your detailed and wonderful book.  Please tell me if you will, how you felt when writing about such a brilliant man?

AH: I have always conceived the book of  having many constituents of interests. That was in my mind from the very beginning. That it would combine consistency from mathematics and science during the World War II and what happened before and after. It’s a story of the 20th Century of triumph to tragedy. The narrative style moves through from one subjects to another with images which link all these things together.

RR: What was one main component that stood out the most during the research process of the book?

AH: Well, the thing that actually made me keep going during the difficulties of interviewing and research I think is the positive response of all his real friends.  In other words, the legacy that he had personally left behind in 1954 which came through to me which I benefited from.  Also, everyone who he really knew him and people who loved him wanted something  to be done that would do justice to what he had been like and what he had achieved in his life.
<Andrew Hodges signing copies of The Enigma in Princeton, NJ>

Andrew Hodges signing copies of The Enigma in Princeton, NJ

RR: The Enigma took years of research, writing and of course countless hours of transcribing interviews, academic papers and personal notes. Was there a moment that you felt that it was a bit overwhelming at times?

AH: I think if there had been serious opposition to what I was doing  from people who counted, these central people,  I think it would have been very hard to do. I was not a pushy figure in interviewing, just drew people out in what they wanted to tell me and I didn’t try to probe or manipulate it where they didn’t want me to know things. The book is an expression of what people wanted me to know and that came through to me as something that really he himself (Turing) would have seen as a close to legacy that he left. So that is the central thing kept it going as I discovered as I kept going.

 
RR: The success of the book has led to the making of the movie The Imitation Game which of course has been nominated for eight Oscars and has won numerous other awards so far. Even after the Oscars, the story of Alan Turing will live on and be told by others.  Did you expect such profound success from the book? 
AH: It’s a historical process and not just a one moment thing.  It’s a changing world in which the book came into being and even in writing it, at the end of the book I express that fact that history will continue to develop and when I was finishing it in 1983 without even a word processor, it was apparent to me that computer technology will change the very nature of books and indeed it has. And the fact that I have a website backing it up is an aspect of the way technology has changed.  The way I communicate with people now is computer driven so that part is Turing, mine and the book’s history.
RR: If Turing were alive today, do you think he would have been engaged in today’s massive explosion of social media and technology?
AH: He would have been an online chatter for sure! (laughs) Oh yes, he would have been an online dater as well. He would have loved anything like that, I am sure of that. He would have been a bit old for that but that won’t have stopped him.
A funny anecdote here. One of the letters Turing wrote to Robin Gandy, he did as a computer print out and posted it which is the nearest thing you can get to an email in 1953. It’s the sort of nerdy thing that people did with computers in the 50’s before computer communications was going. He would have been into that kind of stuff. He would have found great fun in all those things.
RR: Thank you very much Andrew. It was indeed an honor and  a privilege to speak to you. I truly enjoyed the book.
AH: Thank you.
The journey continues…
Ravi
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