Hardware

Alan Turing: Exhibition offers rare glimpse of the man behind the enigma

Here is the back panel of the rebuilt bombe machine at Bletchley. At the launch of the exhibition, Bletchley Park codebreaker Captain Jerry Roberts, now aged 91, who worked on cracking the Tunny cipher used by Hitler's high command, paid tribute to Turing's contribution in helping decipher Nazi messages.

"In the spring of 1941, Britain was losing the war. The German wolf packs were sinking the ships bringing in food and raw materials to Britain left, right and centre - and of course we didn't know where they were out there, waiting, lurking," he said.

"At that juncture, Turing made his fantastic achievement of breaking naval Enigma. At that juncture, there was no other salvation for Britain. Once naval Enigma was broken, the sinkings dropped by 75 per cent."

But despite his achievements at Bletchley, Turing remained a reserved figure, Roberts recalls.

"We never worked together but I used to see him walking the corridors with his gaze averted because he was a very shy man," he said.

"He was an amazing hero, but he didn't project himself in that way - the opposite in fact."

Photo: Nick Heath/TechRepublic

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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

6 comments
sboverie
sboverie

What was not mentioned in the article but also applies for today is that Turing was gay. The British viewed that as a perversion that could be fixed by chemical castration. The irony was that a grateful nation honors him for his major contribution to cracking the enigma code and then turn around and prosecute him as a criminal. His death by cyanide was ruled suicide although some think it was an accident. I am not gay, but I believe that homosexuals are a result of biology than choice. I have met many gay people who said that they were always gay from childhood or birth. They also state that if it was a choice that it would be stupid one considering how marginalized and bullied they are.

vandalii
vandalii

@sboverie  Linking achievement to sexuality doesn't compute (so to speak).  If you truly believe homosexuality is biological, then your statement linking the two is akin to connecting statements "he was brilliant" and "he had blue eyes" as if their adjacency were important or unusual when in fact neither has anything to do with one another.

Rather than turn this into an argument about an irrelevant factoid, let's just say he was treated abominably for his sexuality and be grateful he successfully accomplished the task he undertook.

Proportal
Proportal

I am glad Turing is getting the recognition he deserves, but I am always a bit saddened that in the discussions more isn't made of Tommy Flowers who, although working under the direction of Turing and Max Newman designed and built Colossus - and personally financed it. Things would have taken a great deal longer if the guys at Bletchley hadn't had the expertise of Flowers to turn their maths theorems into mechanical reality. They are all giants in their field and should all be recognised.

jag022054
jag022054

When I was in school 40 years ago they barely mentioned Alan Turring or John Von Neumann. The history of computing focused on the engineers like Eckert and Mauchly, or the business men like Thomas Watson. Obviously these guys made big contributions, but without Turring and Von Neumann computers would be the size of office buildings and take a small army to program.

vandalii
vandalii

@emdublu  Per "The Imitation Game", it was a gov't secret for 50 years, which would exactly fit what you say -- our schooling 40 yrs ago wouldn't have had these facts (Snowden wasn't born yet so couldn't leak it at that point ;-) ).

emdublu
emdublu

... because of what happened at Bletchley Park during the war, all those involved were sworn to secrecy and the UK Government kept very quiet.as well:) I'm not surprised they were never mentioned. Only in recent years have people learnt more about their contribution. Worth looking at www.bletchleypark.org.uk if you are interested.