I guess more people than ever know about Turing these days from that movie. However, the crazy genius of Marian Rejewski – combining state of the art math chops with an other worldly imagination – has largely been unheralded and sadly forgotten.
Dude rebuilt the Enigma Nazi military encryption machine with only its output to go by. They were not even sure it WAS a machine at that time, and he reversed engineered it, sight-unseen in 1932. You read that right ’32. Rejewski’s cryptographic advances were what allowed British forces to read Nazi Enigma-encrypted messages at the start of World War II, seven years after Rejewski’s originally re-created it.
As genius as Turing was, Rejewski did all of the early heavy lifting and exciting work against the Enigma Machine for the Polish General Staff’s Cipher Bureau. He figured out the Enigma’s secret internal wiring after only a few weeks of study. Based out the output alone…
Shortly before war broke out in Poland he presented his findings to French and British intelligence representatives. There is little doubt intelligence gained by the British from decrypted Enigma messages decisively contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Word War II kept Rejewski on the run, from country to country one step ahead of the Germans. After the war he stayed silent for twenty years about his pre-war work. He did not want any extra attention from the KGB after he made his way back to his homeland. In 1976 he gave the Polish Military Historical Institute his memoirs and publicly acknowledged his ground breaking achievements.
To me this story illustrates perfectly the idea that science is mans crowning co-operative. Alan Turning was a genius. Some would argue that so was Edison. However without the work of Rejewski and Tesla who knows if the former pair would be remembered so reverentially. We all stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us and benefit from their knowledge. Some people, like Marian Rejewski, contribute much but are largely un-celebrated.
Just a drop in the bucket post to help fix that.