The Imitation Game

Plot hole: There is no logical reason to switch off the Bombe at midnight when the codes change. Firstly, Turing's proving the concept of automated code breaking, so even if it only finds the right settings days or weeks later, the experiment is worth doing, then you can work out how to speed it up to be operationally useful. Secondly, even in steady state operation, cracking "yesterday's" settings (and thus intercepted signals) is still going to be pretty useful in most cases. Threatening to smash the Bombe up at midnight is good stuff to add some movie tension but, in reality, it's nonsense.

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Suggested correction: It's not a plot hole, it's how they operated it in reality.

I have a copy of British Intelligence in the Second World War, by F H Hensley (the official historian and ex-GCCS). I quote page 309 as an example - 'the knowledge of the Tracking Rooms was far from perfect on account of delays in breaking the settings...During the first half of 1943, however, while the traffic was read with delays that were sometimes less than 24 hours, days when the settings proven to be unusual stubborn were not uncommon...Between 10 March Andy the end of June the setting standards for an a further 22 days were either not broken at all or broken only after a long delay.'...'A delay of as much a said three days in learning that U-boats had been ordered to move to new position so could thus mean than intelligence was received too late to be of use in diverting convoys'. So pretty clear that they carried on attempting to crack the settings well after the end of a day so they can process intercepts which might still be relevant.

Character mistake: In the movie it is stated that "There are 159 million, million, million possible Enigma settings. All we had to do was try each one. But if we had 10 men checking one setting a minute for 24 hours every day and seven days every week, how many days do you think it would take to check each of the settings? Well, it's not days; it's years. It's 20 million years." This is massively understating it - if it would take 10 men only 20 million years to check all the settings of Enigma they would have to each check 251,861 combinations per second. (00:15:04 - 00:16:46)

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Suggested correction: I don't think this was meant to be taken literally as the answer. Merely him putting it into a number the others can understand but still see it's a huge unobtainable amount. An under exaggeration, if you will.

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Factual error: At the one of the movie they say "Turing's machine" inspired generations of scientists. "Today we call them computers" suggesting he invented the computer, which is wrong. Despite there being different opinions. The first computer was built around the beginning of the 20th century. It's very far fetched to claim he inspired the modern computer, if not bogus. (01:50:10)

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Suggested correction: People debate about what constitutes a computer. For example, by some definitions a mouse trap should be considered a computer, and is far older than the beginning of the 20th century. But Turing created a system that modern computers were built upon and as a result is considered by many as the father of the modern computer. That you have a different view doesn't make it a factual mistake. The fact is this is an opinion, and many agree with what was said, so the statement cannot be considered an error. Just like the argument about whether Edison should be considered as the inventor of the light bulb (spoiler - light bulbs using filaments existed before Edison's experiments, but Edison created a PRACTICAL version).

The problem with claiming that 'Turing invented/developed/created' the modern computer is that it detracts from the equally important work he did on designing problems that could be solved by programmable computers. Yes, he worked with the engineers and Bletchley Park, and the Electrical Engineering department at the University of Manchester (Victoria University) when the Baby was built, but that was neither his speciality or main interest. There's a more interesting story to be told.

More mistakes in The Imitation Game

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

More quotes from The Imitation Game

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