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GCHQ boss: Crypto-genius Turing brought tech to British spooks

Tributes paid to 'unique' code-breaking boffin

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The director of GCHQ Iain Lobban credited Alan Turing with bringing technology to Brit spooks in a speech marking 100 years since the late mathematician's birth.

Lobban, who gave a talk at Leeds University last night as part of the famous Bletchley Park codebreaker's centenary celebrations, also said the wartime crypto-boffin would be solving today's computer security problems if he was alive today.

The boss of the UK's eavesdropping nerve centre pointed out a few areas where Turing's innovations are still directly used by GCHQ bods:

GCHQ mathematicians still use the ban, a unit of measurement originally devised by Turing and Jack Good to weigh the evidence for a hypothesis; standards for secure speech systems take the design of the voice encryption system devised by Turing as their starting point.  I could even talk [...] about our continuing use of Bayesian statistics to score hypotheses, in the way first developed by Turing and his cryptanalytic colleagues at Bletchley.

But beyond the specifics, Lobban said Turing's single greatest contribution was to bring computers into GCHQ, thus turning the intelligence agency into the highly technological outfit that it is now.

Undoubtedly, the maths genius - who was born in June 1912 and died in 1954 - would be working on cyber-security if he were around today, Lobban said, at the place where the war for information is at its most complex and most critical:

Bletchley Park was really about exploiting the adversary’s information risk, while minimising our own. Today the Internet provides the virtual global landscape for an analogous struggle.

Lobban also paid tribute to Turing's unique habits:

Of course there are many Turing stories: burying his silver bullion and then forgetting where he had buried it; chaining his mug to his radiator; cycling in his gas mask to ward off hay fever; play on a sense of eccentricity.  But Turing was not an eccentric, unless you believe that there is only one way of being normal and to be otherwise is to be peculiar. Turing wasn’t eccentric: he was unique.

®

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