Students learn of 'Codebreaker's' life

By joe gorman


When Patrick Sammon decided to become a filmmaker in 2009, he had a folder filled with dozens of ideas for a movie, but the one that stood out was the life of early computer expert and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing.

Thursday, Sammon, president of Story Center Productions, screened his film “Codebreaker” for students at Youngstown State University in the Williamson Auditorium. The showing was sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Association for Computing Machinery in association with the university’s Computer Science Department.

Turing, an English mathematician, is considered the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. During World War II, he worked as part of a team of people who cracked Germany’s coded radio transmissions, which were deciphered on machines called Enigma. Turing’s work is credited with greatly aiding the Allied war effort.

Sammon said he first heard of Turing during a visit to the Smithsonian Institution and jotted down some information on him and put it in a file folder, along with lots of other film ideas. When he was ready to begin making movies in 2009, it was Turing’s story that appealed the most to him despite the other ideas he had jotted down, Sammon said.

“His story came to the top of the pile,” Sammon said.

He began work on the film in 2009 and found a British partner in 2010. The film was broadcast on Channel 4 in Britian in 2011, and he re-edited the film in 2012 for American audiences. He said he is in the midst of trying to get the film distributed and estimated about 2 million people have seen it so far.

“It’s been a real adventure,” Sammon said. “In many ways, I feel like I’ve been living with Turing for four years.”

Sammon said he is struck by how inspiring Turing’s story is and also how sad it is. Turing died in 1953 at age 41. Sammon said Turing was convicted of being a homosexual in Britain, which was illegal at the time, and underwent hormone treatments. Some suspect Turing committed suicide.

“He really endured terrible treatment,” Sammon said.

Sammon said Turing had one of the greatest minds of the 20th ventury.

“He was just a genius,” Sammon said. “The experts we talked to put him up with [Isaac] Newton and [Albert] Einstein.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.