Alan Turing | Great Britain | Science

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Turing Bombe Recreated at Bletchley Park

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Turing2The Turing Bombe, a codebreaking machine devised by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman to decipher the Nazi Enigma Codes during World War II, has been meticulously reconstructed by a team of 60 people, and is going on display September 23rd and 24th at Bletchley Park in Central England (to be reopened next summer). The machines, using techniques that are still used in counterterrorism, were used to decode more than 3,000 enemy messages every day.

Workers using the device during the war were given information on a "need to know" basis, according to the BBC:

Turing"About 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park at the height of the war - mostly from the Women's Royal Naval Service. One former employee was 82-year-old Jean Valentine, who described how the original machines 'worked beautifully' and sounded like 'lots of knitting machines'." Said Valentine: "I knew what I was doing but I didn't know what anyone else was doing."

Alan Turing, who was honored with a statue in 2001 in Sackville Park in Manchester, England's gay village, died in 1954 after eating a cyanide-laced apple.

Turing had been convicted just two years earlier of "gross indecency" after it was discovered that he had been in a homosexual relationship. Due to that conviction, he had been ordered to undergo hormone therapy.

Whisper it quietly...the Enigma codebreakers are back! [24dash]

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  1. So a gay man helped save Western Civilization? What a lovely retort to bigoted right-wing religious blather.

    Posted by: LiamOg | Sep 6, 2006 1:50:04 PM


  2. Yep. And the same 'Civilization' made sure that he'd kill himself. "Gross Indecency". Gosh, I can't believe the homophobia.

    Posted by: Xavier | Sep 6, 2006 2:48:43 PM


  3. He was also a forefather of contemporary computer science and advanced interesting theories regarding the guidelines for artificial intelligence. A tragic and untimely end to a brilliant mind.

    Posted by: GBM | Sep 6, 2006 2:54:19 PM


  4. Turing is one of our community's greatest martyrs, and, larger than his war work, many consider him the "father of modern computer science." There is even a school of thought that he was murdered because his brilliant mind was still full of government secrets and his arrest [based solely on his own revelation of the relationship when reporting a related robbery] came during the early hot days of the Cold War when gays were thought to be not just vulnerable to blackmail by enemy agents but somehow inately more likely than nongays to cooperate. His arrest came a year after notorious British spies Burgess ["a loud, foul-mouthed queer with a penchant for seducing hitchhikers" per the FBI) and Maclean (likely bi) defected to the Soviet Union before they could be arrested. In any case, suicide would have been understandable for a person who went from being one of his country's greatest heroes who, indeed, helped save civilization, to being publicly humiliated, stripped of his security clearance and meaningful work, and forced to choose between jail and hormone treatment that caused him to develop feminine breasts, and left to die alone in his lonely little flat.

    Posted by: Leland | Sep 6, 2006 3:06:19 PM


  5. They should skip a second Capote movie and do Turing instead. Of course, they did the same thing roughly to Oscar Wilde fifty years previously, so little had changed, but by the late sixties England pulled ahead of the US in gay rights. Largely this was due to the fact that in the US we rely heavily on slowly changing state laws and also because socialism had become the state "religion" in the UK, replacing Christianity.

    Posted by: Anon | Sep 6, 2006 5:16:47 PM


  6. There is a brilliant book by Neal Stephenson called "Cryptonomicon" that deals with the Turing device and its developement into futuristic data banks a la swiss bank accounts that are used to store data that the owner would prefer not to be disclosed. Gorgeously vivid that book spirals tighter and tighter until you are bound in the same code.

    Actually if you haven't read any Stephenson I would highly recommend him. Try Snow Crash about franchises and computer crime it reads like a movie. Or Diamond Age which is essentially a future fair tale.

    Gorgeous.

    Br!on

    Posted by: Br!on | Sep 6, 2006 8:01:35 PM


  7. There's also a book, Brion, titled "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by the gay author David Leavitt about Turing. Great read - Leavitt does not disappoint.

    Posted by: Mike P | Sep 6, 2006 11:40:03 PM


  8. So, did Turing lace the apple with cyanide himself, or did someone else do it? Seems like a horrendous way to commit suicide.

    Posted by: ScottJ | Sep 7, 2006 8:39:04 AM


  9. May I recommend a great tv film ( by the BBC, I think) called "Breaking the Code" about Turing's last years and downfall. It stars the brilliant Derek Jacobi as Turing and is extremely moving.

    Posted by: chris | Jan 5, 2007 8:27:29 AM


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