Alan Turing's biopic is entitled as 'The Imitation Game'. In this movie what has actually been imitated?


4 Answers 4


The other answers already draw some really good connections to various parts of Turing's work, be it movie-related or more general. But we don't really need to stop there.

In fact a big emphasis of the movie, beyond the WWII spy story that already offers many possibilities for "imitation", is the rather personal story of Alan Turing and his struggles with being homosexual in a time where that wasn't really accepted at all. So he himself is forced to play an imitation game, imitating a straight man.

(As a side-note, the subtitle to the German version of the movie, "Ein streng geheimes Leben" ("A top secret life"), while maybe a little bit too much on the nose, emphasises this connection further.)

This is probably as valid an interpretation as the more technical ones presented in the other answers and the overall title is likely using that ambiguity for evoking meaning on multiple levels this way, just as the story itself juxtaposes Turing's personal problems with his historical achievements.

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    This is pretty much the correct answer, but there are many interviews out there where screenwriter Graham Moore talks about wanting to write a story about the difficulties Turing -- with his quirky personality -- had fitting in with society, such as chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/…. Moore, who is straight, doesn't single out Turing's homosexuality as his only non-standard attribute, which is why his Oscar acceptance speech ended with his call to 'Stay weird, stay different." Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 20:38
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    Maybe worth mentioning that a big one of those "possibilities for imitation" was acting as if enigma were unbroken. Their job was to break enigma, but they had to still pretend that it was unbroken (including allowing preventable attacks to take place), since if the Nazis knew it was broken they would switch to something else. In fact, the British kept this secret long after WW2, since other countries (believing them to be unbroken) began to use devices like enigma themselves.
    – Warbo
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 12:34
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    The movie kind of goes to extreme lengths to smack you in the face with this at the very end. It was not subtle. The framing device of the movie is that he's telling his life story to a reporter, and it ends with asking the reporter if he judges him to be human or not. He's in a lifelong despair over Christopher, and all significant truths about him are secrets he can never tell without legal consequences (and vilification in the case of the buggery). In what sense is a broken man denied of his meaning and reviled by society actually "human"? Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 1:02

It's a reference to the famous "Turing Test" - whether an artificial intelligence can convince a human that it itself is human.

Turing's first version of this test was specifically called 'the imitation game'.

The test was introduced by Turing in his 1950 paper, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", while working at the University of Manchester. It opens with the words: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" Because "thinking" is difficult to define, Turing chooses to "replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.". Turing's new question is: "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?"

Turing test - Imitation Game -

Common understanding has it that the purpose of the Turing Test is not specifically to determine whether a computer is able to fool an interrogator into believing that it is a human, but rather whether a computer could imitate a human

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    ... Interrogator: And that's this big paper you wrote? What's it called?. Turing: The Imitation Game. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:42
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    A good answer would point out that the title refers to both the paper AND the imitations in Turing's life, as described by Napoleon Wilson Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 21:16
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    @DJClayworth I wouldn't worry about that too much. Sometimes a conclusive answer is gained by the combination of various equally valid answers. If that combination happens in a specific answer or is just a side-effect of many reasonable answers appearing on the question together is often just a technicality.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 21:31
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    There is no doubt that the idea of the title ''The Imitaion Game'' came from the Turing's 1950 paper. But when it's about correlation of the title to the story line, Turing's personal struggles with being homosexual should also be considered. That's why @NapoleonWilson 's answer seems to be more convincing to me.By the way thanks for sharing this valuable information with us. :) Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 5:15
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    @FlyingDutchman: You're correct, IMO. Having seen the movie (and being a computer scientist), the framing device of telling the story to an interrogator isn't an imitation game, and the Turing tests of AIs are barely even mentioned during the movie. The machine-imitating-human sense is the source of the phrase and the reason for using it as the title, but not what it means in the title of the movie. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:02

In this movie what has actually been imitated?


Instead of trying to break The Enigma - the machine that the Germans used to encrypt and decode their messages - Turing decided to create his own kind of machine that imitated Enigma, in order to decode the German's messages.

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    Good thought, but I don't know - they had devices that simply imitated Enigma before Turing called the Type-X. The Bombe devices designed by Turing and his team didn't just imitate Enigma.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:19
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    @wizzwizz4 wtf? I already clarified I was not commenting on the wrong answer.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 19:19
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    @Tetsujin We both said this because in your first comment, you implicitly reference me having mentioned the Turing AI Test theory, but in fact, I never did. Perhaps if we're both wrong in our suggestion, you could explain how my response relates to your first comment. Thanks.
    – Charles
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 19:21
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    @iandotkelly I'd disagree, if not for the just that you slipped in there. Turning's machine cracked Engima messages by imitating the Enigma machine. That's a valid interpretation of the title IMO. However it is true that Turing's machine was configurable and could be made to do other things. It didn't just imitate Engima. However it did imitate Enigma.
    – aroth
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 2:36
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    @aroth ... a machine that encrypts and decrypts plaintext based on rotor & plugboard settings in the same way as enigma is an imitation of enigma - you could buy commercial enigma machines before the war, and the British copied the idea in the Type-X. The bombes did not just do that, they searched every single combination of settings searching for the right ones.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 4:24

Alan Turing developed the concept of Universal Turing Machine (UTM) which is basically a mathematical model of what we call a computer. A UTM can imitate any other Turing Machine (TM) i.e it is a programmable machine. The same hardware can do different things(in other words, imitate) depending on the program it is executing. It was a paradigm shifting idea.

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    Hi, Welcome to Movies and TV SE. Greatly appreciate your effort on answer but if you could read again carefully, question is actually about the movie, Imitation Games and movie title's accuracy with real life story of Alan Turing.
    – Vishwa
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 5:11
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    I understood the question. Since all the other answers have covered most of the things in his life and career related to imitation i.e AI, enigma and his sexuality, I thought of adding my two cents. It is funny to think of it now, most of the important things about his life were in some way or the other an imitation.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 5:22

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