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Much of modern-day computing can be traced to innovations starting in the 1940s—never before has a major field emerged and matured in a single generation. To better understand computing's potential future directions, it's important to know our past and how we arrived at our current state. This column is dedicated to meeting and talking to people who range from the early pioneers to current visionaries. Multimedia and video will be essential to help explain our profession to new technologists. Using video gives a face and voice to the people in computing and adds to our profession's oral history.

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IEEE Computer: Alan Turing at Bletchley Park

by Charles Severance

Computer's multimedia editor Charles Severance visits Bletchley Park to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing's birth. Turing's ground-breaking work in the 1940s continues to have an impact on computer science as we know it. The Turing test, Turing machine, Turing completeness, and Church-Turing computability bear his name in acknowledgment of his early breakthroughs and influence. In the video, we see the German Enigma machine used to encrypt messages, and the BOMBE mechanical computing system that was designed by Alan Turing to crack the Enigma code. We also see the first electronic tube/valve-based computer called the Colossus that was built to break the more sophisticated Lorenz SZ42 encryption used for Hitler's strategic messages during World War II. We see and hear both the BOMBE and Colossus running as if they were in production doing code-breaking during the war. For a podcast of the associated column, please see

This episode comes from the June 2012 issue of Computer.

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About the Speaker

Charles SeveranceCharles Severance has been balancing computer science, information technology, and media for his entire career. In 1975, fresh out of high school, he was simultaneously learning Fortran at Michigan State University; working as a cameraman and director for WILX-TV, the mid-Michigan NBC affiliate; and participating in community theater productions. Over the years, Severance has moved between being a software developer and architect in the commercial and academic sectors, serving as the host of a short-lived national television show on technology, and providing leadership as the chief architect of the Sakai open source learning management system. Currently, he is a faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Information, where he focuses on teaching programming and Web skills to students who think they want to avoid anything technical. He has written several technical books, including Python for Informatics, Using the Google App Engine, and High-Performance Computing. Severance is also the author of Sakai: Free as in Freedom, in which he chronicled his experiences building an international open source community around the Sakai learning management system. View his personal blog and video channels at and follow him on Twitter.