Google is helping fund Bletchley Park, the Buckinghamshire manor house where British mathematicians broke German and Japanese codes and, many believe, shortened the second world war by two years. The world’s first electronic programmable computer was developed at Bletchley but not acknowledged until 20 years ago when secrecy laws were relaxed. After the war, concerned that knowledge of Britain’s role in decryption would help the Soviets, the new enemy, Churchill ordered Colossus to be smashed up and imposed draconian secrecy on all who had worked at Bletchley.
Some experts believe that this veil of secrecy¹ prevented Britain from building on its achievements in computer technology and allowed others to claim the high ground. In this BBC report, Gordon Corera tells how Google is getting involved and has helped fund the purchase of a cache of papers by Alan Turing, the maths genius who was instrumental in much of the code breaking work:
The papers – which included work from 1936 on “computable numbers” – were up for sale and therefore in danger of being lost to Bletchley. Turing had described an automatic machine which would be able to read and manipulate symbols on a tape through algorithms.
British-born Google cloud computing executive, Simon Meacham, saw a tweet about Turing’s papers and feared they would be lost to Bletchley and the nation. He approached Google.org, the company’s charitable arm and some of its vice-presidents: “I reached out across Google and said I need $100,000 by Monday, please.”
Peter Barron, head of external relations for Google Europe believes that without Alan Turing, Google in the form we know it would not exist.
¹ Knowledge of enemy plans during the war often led to heart-searching and immensely difficult decisions. Sometimes knowing the future can be a burden. In a famous instance, Bletchley warned Winston Churchill of plans for a massive bomb attack on Coventry. He chose not to act on this, not to issue warnings because this could have alerted the Germans that the British were reading all their radio traffic. Coventry, with its famous cathedral, was razed to the ground and casualties were high.