"Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
from the movie, The Imitation Game
I watched this movie over the weekend with my daughter. Both of us were mesmerized by the story and saddened by the ending. I won't tell in case you haven't seen it and don't know the story. Alan Turning, the subject of the movie, and the individual being referred to in the opening quote, is a quiet, non-descript, but brilliant mathematician as World War II begins. He goes to work for the British government on a top secret project - a project that remained top secret for 50 years. His challenge? He and his team were tasked to break the "unbreakable" Nazi code called Enigma. Even when they succeeded, their secret was kept from most of the highest ranking decision makers in the British government. According to Turning, the knowledge gained in deciphering the codes could not be acted upon will nilly for fear that the Nazs' would then realize the code had been broken and devise a second that would need to be cracker. Rather, Turning and his team developed an algorithm that was used to predict how frequently the highly classified information could be acted on without alerting the enemy and further how to penetrate the code to be able to send their own transmission with erroneous information.
Turning was brilliant. He was also a homosexual in a war time Britain when it was illegal to be a homosexual. My suspicion is that he would also test somewhere on today's Autism scale. While brilliant, he lacked many social skills characteristic of those with that diagnosis. In many ways, he truly was some one whom most would imagine to be capable of very little.
Yet his contribution to the ending of World War ii is credited with saving 14M+ lives and 2-4 more years of war. And the machine he built to crack enigma? He called it Chris after a childhood friend. Post war Britain called it a Turing machine. We now call them computers.
Why is this such an important lesson for us all to learn? Simply because we never know who among us with be "the person who can do things no one can imagine."