Facebook just saved the historic site where Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code

Bletchley Park was, famously, the English country house location that doubled as a center for Allied code-breaking efforts during World War II. It was at Bletchley where a brilliant team of code-breakers, among them computer pioneer Alan Turing, helped decipher enemy codes, which ultimately helped bring the war to a faster conclusion.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced a donation of $1.3 million (1 million British pounds) to the Bletchley Park Trust, providing vital funds that will allow the site of exceptional historical importance to remain open. Like many places, Bletchley has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused its closure for several months this year.

Although artificial intelligence was not officially formed as a discipline until after Turing’s untimely death, Turing was the “father” of A.I., helping to lay much of the groundwork for a field that, today, plays such an enormous role in our lives. (He is most famously referenced in A.I. through the formulation of the Turing Test, which asks participants to distinguish between a human and A.I. agent.)

Turing
A picture of Alan Turing in Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, offices. Facebook

“Facebook is honored to provide the support needed to help keep Bletchley Park open to the world,” Gemma Silvers, director of engineering for Facebook’s London-based abuse-detection infrastructure team, told Digital Trends. “There are a few direct connections between Facebook, Bletchley Park, and the people who worked there. This October, we celebrate 70 years since Alan Turing published his paper titled ‘Computer Machinery and Intelligence‘ which kickstarted the field of A.I. That paper, alongside others he subsequently published, remains an inspiration for our tens of thousands of engineers and research scientists today — and in many cases still directly guides their work.”

Turing, Silvers said, also defined the field of program correctness, which has a big impact on the testing and verification of code as a whole. Recently, for instance, Facebook research scientist and University College London professor Peter O’Hearn developed new theories about program correctness and incorrectness that were partly inspired by Turing’s work. Those theories were applied during the development of Infer, an open source tool used by Facebook to parse millions of lines of code every day and check for bugs. Paying homage to that link, Facebook is introducing a new Bletchley Park commemorative badge — called Station X after the code-breaking site — which will be offered to researchers who find vulnerabilities within Facebook apps.

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