A Journey to the Past to Discuss the Future

AI Summit at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park is a country estate just outside Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, England. Such estates are liberally dotted around the country, mementoes of the old days of Empire. What separates Bletchley Park from all the other estates, however, is its contribution to military history and future tech.

The Past

For it’s here, 82 years ago during World War 2, that the enigma code was cracked. The code was the encryption used by the German High Command to position their U Boats in attack positions in the North Atlantic. The significance of the North Atlantic was that it was a lifeline for England from the United States. But millions of tons of vital goods and food were being lost to the bottom of the ocean due to U Boat attacks. (This was before the US entered the war.)

An enigma machine had been recovered from a captured U Boat, but the code to decipher its messages was too far complicated for the usual codebreaking techniques. So the brightest minds in the United Kingdom were assembled at Bletchley Park to crack the code. These events are dramatised in the Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game.

It took six months, and the building of what became known as the first computer, before the team succeeded.

It’s been surmised that the work of Alan Turing and his team of brilliant mathematical theorists at Bletchley Park saved 14 million lives and shortened the war by a year. There’s an equally thought-provoking conclusion. Had they not cracked the code, the war would have been shortened by 3 or 4 years. Because Germany would have won it. Because in 1941, England was lying on the canvas being counted out.

The future

On November 1st and 2nd, 10 Downing Street will host an AI summit at Bletchley Park. International governments, leading AI firms and research experts have been invited. It will be the latest in a sudden surge of high-powered conferences to “consider the risks of AI, especially at the frontier of development, and discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak weighed in with some fairly unnecessary comments. “To fully embrace the extraordinary opportunities of artificial intelligence, we must grip and tackle the risks to ensure it develops safely in the years ahead.”

Quite a savvy PR stunt for the government to hold the Summit at Bletchley Park. To celebrate that it was an Englishman who cracked the code. Because he also built the first computer and is considered the father of AI.

However, I suggest you see the movie or read a bit about the subject. Then you’ll also find out that it was the British government who later chemically castrated the same Englishman, which resulted in his suicide.

Alan Turing and Robert Oppenheimer should have shared notes.

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