Thanks to the movie The Imitation Game, Alan Turing (June 23, 1912-June 7, 1954) is probably better known today than any time in history. A mathematician trained at King’s College, Cambridge, England, he was fascinated with the concept of formal proofs in mathematics, and formulated the concept of hypothetical devices that could solve any computational tasks. These hypothetical devices are now called “Turing machines” in recognition of his work. John Von Neumann, widely considered the founder of modern computational science, used Turing’s work as the theoretical foundation of his own.
Each year, on Turing’s birthday, admirers bring flowers to the Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The park is near the Engineering and Physical Sciences Faculty Office of Manchester University.
During World War II, Turing and other mathematicians were involved in a highly secret project to break German military codes at Bletchley Park, a mansion and grounds northwest of London. While The Imitation Game implies that Turing essentially hand-built a machine to break German codes, Turing’s contributions were not those of an electrical engineer but of the theorist behind the statistical analysis used to automate code breaking. His approach to breaking a problem into parts and then putting them together into a solution is the foundation of modern computer programming.
Located at the edge of Fort Meade, Maryland, in an old, nondescript motel, is the National Cryptologic Museum. Admission is free, and with that admission you can explore how the worlds of communications, mathematics, and security intersect in cryptology.
Hebern Electric Code machine, built around 1918, was one of the first U.S. developed modern coding devices, with one rotor and nicely detailed brass segments. Like the Apple, it was Made in California, USA.
The M-9 Bombe Checking Machine was a US device built in large numbers to perform brute force attacks on German codes during World War II. Several machines were fed the same code to find the proper rotor settings, and once found, the code could be translated.
This Enigma machine and many variants was used by German forces throughout World War II. This particular device can be used by visitors to create their own secret messages.
The German SZ42 Schlüsselzusatz, or cipher attachment, was developed by the Germans in 1942 for use by the German Army. The British nicknamed it “Tunny,” after a type of tuna. This seemingly random name was due to the requirement to call all German encrypted traffic “fish,” as a security measure.
This Connection Machine CM-5 was built by the Thinking Machines Corp. It was used by NSA from 1991 to 1997, and was called “Frostburg,” after a college town in western Maryland. The many blinking lights are decorative.
This Soviet made IMZ-Ural motorcycle is a Soviet copy of a German BMW R-71 motorcycle from 1941. It was captured from the North Vietnamese Army by the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and has not a thing to do with cryptanalysis.
Outside the National Cryptologic Museum gift store is this replica of the Rosetta Stone. Created around 196 BC, it displays a decree from an Egyptian king, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and ancient Greek. Discovered by a French soldier during France’s invasion of Egypt in 1799, it provided the key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphs, much as modern code breakers look for keys in breaking coded texts. The real Rosetta Stone is on display at the British Museum in London.