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Description: The film The Imitation Game features the seriously talented Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing an unlikely British Second World War hero. From his signs of being somewhere along the Autism Spectrum Disorder Continuum (DSM-5) intellectual genius, his challenges with social interaction, and to his development of the Turing test (of either computer intelligence or humanity depending on your perspective) Alan Turing and the Imitation Game provides us with a LOT to think about from a Psychological perspective.

Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084970/

Date: Released December 25, 2014

Imitation Game

Photo credit – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084970/

Links:     IMDb Link – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084970/

There is a LOT to see from a Psychological perspective in the film The Imitation Game, featuring the seriously talented Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing, who was a real, though unlikely, British Second World War (secret) hero. From his signs of being somewhere along the Autism Spectrum Disorder Continuum (DSM-5) to his design of a computing machine that cracked the German Enigma signaling code to his eventual suicide after the war, Alan Turing, is brought to the screen with crystal clarity by Benedict Cumberbatch, and challenges us to think about him and the psychological and social forces that shaped (and challenged) him.

It seems like a side line in the film but Turing developed the Turing test for deciding when a machine (computer) could be said to be “thinking” and perhaps be deemed to be, to some extent, “human” (this is what the title of the film refers to). Competitions to see if this test can be passed occur annually and in 2012 a “program” called Eugene Goostman finished first by convincing 29% of those who interacted with it that it was human. The primary focus of the film is the urgent rush by Turing and other mathematician “code breakers” to crack the German Enigma code with the course of the war as the stakes. Against that plot line, though, we get an opportunity to study Alan Turing, his serious intellect, his struggles with social interaction and convention, and his coping with being gay in a historical time when it was illegal. He is playing the Imitation game with us and asking us to consider what it is to be human. His first line in the film invites us to participate in the Turing test. Alan Turing: “Are you paying attention?”

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What might we point to in Alan Turing’s behaviour that would be consistent with the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for the Autism Spectrum Disorder Continuum?
  2. If (when?) a computer (program) passes the Turing test what might it suggest to us about the nature of human consciousness and cognition? What should we do with such a “machine”?
  3. Given what Alan Turing accomplished, if we were to decide he met the diagnostic criteria for the Autism Spectrum Disorder Continuum what might that lead us to think about the DSM and Abnormal Psychology in general?

References (Read Further):

Christian, Brian (2012) The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us about being Human, Anchor, Knopf Doubleday, New York.  http://brian-christian.com/the-most-human-human/

McPartland J, Klin A (2006). “Asperger’s syndrome”. Adolescent Medical Clinics, 17(3), 771–88.

Turing, Alan (1948), “Machine Intelligence”, in Copeland, B. Jack, The Essential Turing: The ideas that gave birth to the computer age, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-825080-0

Turing, Alan (October 1950), “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, Mind LIX (236): 433–460, doi:10.1093/mind/LIX.236.433, ISSN 0026-4423, retrieved 2008-08-18

Turing, Alan (1952), “Can Automatic Calculating Machines be Said to Think?”, in Copeland, B. Jack, The Essential Turing: The ideas that gave birth to the computer age, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-825080-0

Eugene Goostman and the Turing Test http://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR583836.aspx

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