Alan Turing’s Bombe Machine - dummies

By John Paul Mueller, Luca Massaron

Alan Turing’s Bombe machine wasn’t any form of artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, it isn’t even a real computer. It broke Enigma cryptographic messages, and that’s it. However, it did provide food for thought for Turing, which eventually led to a paper titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” that he published in the 1950s that describes The Imitation Game. However, the Bombe itself was actually based on a Polish machine called the Bomba.

Even though some sources imply that Alan Turing worked alone, the Bombe was produced with the help of many people, most especially Gordon Welchman. Turing also didn’t spring from a vacuum, ready made to break German encryption. His time at Princeton was spent with greats like Albert Einstein and John von Neumann (who would go on to invent the concept of computer software). The papers Turing wrote inspired these other scientists to experiment and see what is possible.

Specialized hardware of all sorts will continue to appear as long as scientists are writing papers, bouncing ideas off of each other, creating new ideas of their own, and experimenting. When you see movies or other media, assuming that they’re historically accurate at all, don’t leave with the feeling that these people just woke up one morning, proclaimed, “Today I will be brilliant!” and went on to do something marvelous. Everything builds on something else, so history is important because it helps show the path followed and illuminates other promising paths — those not followed.