At the weekend we visited Bletchley Park, home of the famous World War II cryptanalysts. This group intercepted Morse Code radio transmissions between the German High Command and their air force, troops and ships. The German transmissions were encoded by Enigma machines, electro-mechanical devices that 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, very different from life at Bletchley Park. In reality, the best and the brightest were secreted away to try and break the codes by hand, flashes of brilliance and sheer hard work.
The ‘Turing’ point
But then the talented and slightly eccentric Alan Turing designed the Bombe, a machine to help beak the codes. Whilst not a computer (it could not perform any numerical calculations), it helped win the war and spur Turing onto greater things. Turing is widely considered the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.
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. 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.
Back to the future
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.