Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Turing Bombe

Not a nuclear device, or something that might hang underneath a F-16 or a Predator drone. But the electromechanical device created by Alan Turing in World War II to break the German Enigma code - which likely ended the war several years early. It's an amazing invention. I saw the American Purple decryption device (very similar) when I visited the National Cryptologic Museum on the NSA grounds a few years ago.

I recently discovered the nifty audio lectures available for free on iTunes U. One of the random lectures I downloaded was about the Turing Bombe, given by a gentleman who works at the Bletchley Park National Codes Centre. (And, though he didn't say this, I suspect he was a cryptographer before he retired to be a tour guide.) After World War II, all the bombes were destroyed because of the secrecy in which the project was surrounded. In 2006 a team finally finished reconstructing one from the original blueprints, and now they give lectures and such at the Park for those who are interested in codebreaking during World War II, before the advent of computers.

Because the Bombe wasn't a computer. It didn't perform computational calculations. It was merely electromechanical, and relied on the human brain to tell it what to do and to understand the results it provided. What is most fascinating to me is that the bombe didn't search for the *correct* results. Instead it searched for all possible *incorrect* results, which thus by the process of elimination showed the proper settings for that day's key and settings, usually within 9 or so hours. The Germans changed the key roughly every 24 hours, so there was a tight turn-around. And when the Enigma has something like 129 million million million combinations, you can see how amazing this machine really is.

When I read about stuff like this, it leaves me in awe. For a man to invision this concept, and bring it to fruition.... wow. OK. My nerdy reminisces are at an end now, and I will continue with my regularly scheduled program. ::grin::

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