[SIGCIS-Members] New CACM piece - Turing, Tutte and Flowers

Thomas Haigh thomas.haigh at gmail.com
Wed Dec 21 20:03:09 PST 2016



My holiday gift to the world was just published online in CACM (out in the
Jan edition on paper):
http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2017/1/211102-colossal-genius/fulltext. It's
one of the articles chosen for open access so you don't need a subscription.


In "Colossal Genius:  Tutte, Flowers, and a Bad Imitation of Turing" I trash
The Imitation Game and its treatment of Bletchley Park, which is neither a
controversial thing to do nor particularly timely, but hopefully sets up a
contrast with discussion of some aspects of the actual history. Then look at
another side of Bletchley Park history: the work on the "Tunny" teleprinter
code, starting with Bill Tutte's work to figure the thing out and then the
contributions by Flowers and others to mechanize aspects of codebreaking. I
make a careful but probably doomed attempt to explain without any equations
how and why Tutte's attack worked, the job that Colossus was designed for,
and how the different parts of the codebreaking process fitted together. As
in my work on ENIAC there's a nod to labor issues and an examination of what
kinds of work are celebrated and what kinds forgotten.


I recommend reading the PDF version, as the web one hides at the very bottom
two diagrams that help to make the encryption discussion more


This is the first publication from my project with Mark Priestley on
Colossus. The focus here is on codebreaking rather than Colossus itself,
though I do share the perhaps controversial judgment that Colossus was
neither a computer nor programmable. There will be a lot more detail on this
side of things - we have in draft from a lengthy technical report on the
Colossus family machines and their configuration methods and capabilities.
Also two draft journal articles. The idea is not to dismiss Colossus as
unimportant, but to better understand it as a digital communications and
bitstream processing device rather than shoehorning it into the ill-fitting
category of "computer." 


Festive greetings to you all,





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