Technology Planning and Analysis

Forgotten tech father: Bill Tutte vs. Alan Turing?

Contrary to popular opinion, Alan Turing was not the only brilliant mathematical code-breaker at Bletchley Park during World War Two. He was also not the only one who was instrumental in the birth of computing.

Turing is famous for theorising the first computer, cracking the Enigma code… and of course, his untimely death and cruel mistreatment for homosexuality.  Bill Tutte, on the other hand, had an ordinary private life… and is hardly known at all for cracking the more sophisticated Lorenz code, which encrypted missives from Hitler himself and boasted a formula so complex that the first computer, Colossus, needed to be built to decipher individual messages.

“We came across this huge apparent conspiracy to give Alan Turing the lion share of recognition for the work that went on at Bletchley Park,” Richard Fletcher, Secretary and Treasurer of the Bill Tutte Memorial Fund tells IDG Connect. “It was understood Enigma appealed to people’s imagination and there was large scale, rather prurient, public interest in the nature of Turing’s death.”

“That unfortunately diverted people’s attention away from the far more important activities that were going on at Bletchley Park during the war. It suited the security services to feed the Alan Turing publicity machine while far more important people get very little recognition at all. We felt that was unjust and set about trying to do something about it.”

Bill Tutte was the son of a gardener from Newmarket. In 1935 he accepted a scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge to study science. Yet from his first days at university he attended lectures of the mathematical society and so teamed up with three friends to solve the problem of “squaring the square”. He later explained how despite several degrees in science he “learned mathematical research by doing it for fun”.

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