Feeds

Bletchley Park scientist dies in car crash

RIP Prof. Donald Michie and Dame Anne McLaren

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Bletchley Park code-breaker Professor Donald Michie, 84, and his ex-wife, geneticist Dame Anne McLaren, 80, were killed in a car crash this Saturday.

Their son, Jonathan, told Reuters that his parents were travelling from Cambridge to London on the M11, when their car left the road and hit a tree. No other cars are reported to have been involved in the accident.

Both were extremely eminent scientists: Dame Anne was the first female officer of the Royal Society, a fellow of King's College and Christ College, Cambridge, and a member of the Warnock Commission, an ethical advisory board on the use of genetics. Her ex-husband Professor Michie was an artificial intelligence researcher who had worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park during the second world war.

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said that Dame Anne's death was a "great tragedy and a loss to science... She was both idealistic and effective, and her loss will be deeply felt not only by her fellow researchers, but far more widely."

It was at Bletchley Park that Professor Michie developed an interest in machine intelligence, but it was an interest it would take him some time to revive.

After the war he went to Oxford to study medicine, going on to obtain a D Phil in Mammalian Genetics. He worked in Zoology, briefly alongside Dame Anne at UCL, until the mid 1960s, when he returned to his programming roots and set up the Experimental Programming Unit, at the University of Edinburgh. There he later founded the Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception.

Professor Michie's work at Bletchley Park contributed to cracking Tunny, a German teleprinter cipher implemented by the Lorenz machine. The code breakers never saw a Lorenz machine until after the war, but they had been decoding its messages for two and a half years.

The Lorenz machine took a stream on input and obscured it using the Vernam system. This took a plain text message and added an set of obscuring characters to it, producing the cipher text. The same set of characters could then be added back to the cipher text and would reveal the original message.

The original German plan was to use characters from a one-time pad to encipher the plain text, but this proved operationally difficult to manage. As a result, the obscuring text was provided by a pseudo-random number generator. The pseudo in the random was the chink in the armour that allowed the team at Bletchley to break the cipher.

According to Jonathan Michie, at the time of his death, his father had been preparing to give a lecture on the history of machine intelligence to the University of Edinburgh.

The couple worked together at University College London during the 1950s. They were married in 1952 and had three children before divorcing in 1959. Despite the breakdown of their marriage, they remained close and still shared a house in Camden, North London.

Professor Michie also leaves another child from an earlier marriage. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.