Did you know that the first electronic programmable computer, Colussus, was built in Britain during World War II? The project and its location, Bletchley Park, remained veiled in secrecy until the 1970s when the British government revealed the discoveries made there, which are said to have shortened the war by 2 years.
As reported by the BBC, Bletchley Park is once again in the spotlight, this time thanks to Google. Despite its significant place in Britain’s history, Bletchley Park has largely been neglected, threatened with being torn down and the groundbreaking discoveries made there all but forgotten.
Thanks to an initiative spearheaded by Google’s executive, Simon Meacham, Bletchley’s place in history – the place where British codebreakers were able to crack the code of the German Enigma machine is being restored.
Bletchley Park is also the location where Tommy Flowers, a British engineer helped build the world’s first programmable computer, only to have it literally smashed into pieces as part of Churchill’s attempt to protect government secrets. Now thanks in part to Google, what few papers remain and were not destroyed are staying in their rightful place.
Google is raising money to buy the historical documents that survived the purge, as well as to restore the dilapidated buildings, in what is a modern and historic match made in heaven. The connection may not be obvious at first, until you realize that Bletchley Park is where British mathematician Alan Turing came up with the very foundation of much of what Google does today. Turing’s algorithm for cracking codes is said to be the predecessor for Google’s own page-ranking technology and search engine.
Peter Barron, head of external relations for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa says, “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that without Alan Turing, Google in the form we know it would not exist.”
Meacham wasted no time in approaching Google’s charitable arm, as well as its high ranking executives. “I reached out across Google and I said I need $100,000 by Monday, please,” he says. Google came through, and Meacham had the money in a matter of days.
Google is now in the process of raising $3 million to renovate Bletchley Park, and Meacham’s vision for the historic building is not only to restore it to its rightful place in history, but he also believes it could become Britain’s answer to the Silicon Valley.
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a hub for computing activity in the UK that was built around where the entire industry started?” he asks.