You may not have ever heard about Bletchley Park. In fact, the place was one of the best kept secrets of World War II (WWII) until just recently. Of course, like many secret places, this one fell into disuse after the war and nearly ended up in the scrap heap, but a restoration effort has been under way for quite some time now. As a computer scientist, the entire Bletchley Park project interests me because it was the first time that many computer principles were put into play. The project relied on cutting edge technology to reduce the length of the war and saved thousands of lives. A lot of other people must feel as I do because the park recently had its 100,000 visitor.
This particular historical place is receiving a lot of notice as of late. For example, there is a PBS television show called The Bletchley Circle that talks about what happened to some of the ladies who worked there after the war. The show makes good viewing and the feelings and situations presented are realistic to a point. I doubt very much that any of the people who actually worked there ended up as amateur sleuths, but it’s fun to think about anyway. The show does have the full cooperation of the restoration group and is even filmed there.
The computer systems used at Bletchley Park were immense and even the lowliest smartphone today probably has more processing power. However, WWII was the first war where computer systems played a major role and reading about their history gives insight into the directions that the technology may take in the future. The most important factor for me has been that the group working at Bletchley Park was made up of the finest minds available, regardless of gender, sex orientation, religion, age, or any other factor you can imagine. The only thing that mattered was whether you had a good mind. It’s how things should be today, could be today, but aren’t. It’s not hard to imagine the impact on the problem of global warming if we had such a group now.
All good things must apparently come to an end. At the end of the war, the group that performed so many amazing tasks was broken up, rather than being retained to work on other problems, such as reconstruction. The sheer waste of not keeping these minds working together on other problems staggers me, but it has happened more than a few times throughout history, and all over the world. No country in the world is exempt from such terrible waste. The women in the group ended up going home to be housewives and pretend that nothing ever happened. It’s the reason that The Bletchley Circle strikes such a chord with me. The show presents a kind of “what if” scenario.
If the world is to survive, it’s important that we think about the incredible waste of not using all the resources at hand for solving problems (and there are more than a few problems to solve). If this group serves as nothing else, it’s a reminder of how a few extremely talented people were able to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. They should serve as an example today for all those who think the world’s problems can’t be solved—they resonate as a beacon of hope. Let me know your thoughts about Bletchley Park and The Bletchley Circle at [email protected].