At the weekend we visited Bletchley Park, home of the cryptoanalysts during World War II. They intercepted radio transmissions between the German high command and their air force, troops and ships. These morse code radio transmiisions were encoded by Enigma machines. The machines were electro mechanical and transposed one letter to another. Type in ‘Q” and you get “E”. Type in “G” and you get “T”. But there were 176,000,0000,0000,000 transposition options and the transposition option was changed daily.
The Enigma machines were made famous by the thriller “The Enigma Code” which was all spies and glamour, which was very different from the life at Bletchley Park. The best and the brightest were secreted away at Bletchley Park, initially to try and break the codes by hand, flashes of brilliance and sheer hard work.
But then the talented and slightly eccentric Alan Turing designed a machine, the Bombe, which would help beak the codes. Whilst this was not a computer, as it could not perform any numerical calculations it helped win the war and spur Turing onto greater things. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.
But whilst touring Bletchley Park we visited an exhibition of life in wartime Britain in the 1940’s. Ration books, gas masks, a 1940’s kitchen complete with home appliances, a typical sitting room and kids toys, and posters. But it was posters give the greatest insight into life in a war zone.
Posters reminding you that “secrets cost lives” and “keep mum”. Others encouraging you to be more self sufficient – grow your own vegetables and recycle. Suggesting that you save fuel and leave space on the roads for others by walking more.
But what surprised me was the last poster. It shows that the benefits of capturing process knowledge was important in 1940 – over 70 years ago. Important enough that they produced national posters put up in offices and factories.
So the world of computing has progressed from a machine occupying the size of a room and now the same computing power is found in a novelty greetings card.
But process management has moved on very little. I think I even recognize the guy in the poster.