Sig Saly and modern tech


So I have just been listening to my favourite podcast, 99% Invisible by Roman Mars, this week it was all about the vocoder.

So this guy called Homer Dudley (not Simpson, doh!) and his invention the vocoder. He built a special one called the Voderette especially for 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The machine was a giant speech synthesiser, which basically distorted voices and made silly noises.

But there was a serious technology behind it, which was to prove invaluable in encrypting wartime messages for the Allies. The technology helped to create the massive machines called Sig Saly.

So machines the size of whole rooms, with very temperamental electronics were used to send real-time messages between wartime Allied leaders that the Germans could not decode, and in fact were not even aware of.

The technology required two identical records to be played simultaneously at either end of the conversation, so one in Washington and one in London. They were effectively one off security keys. When the conversation had finished, they both had to be destroyed.

This was real groundbreaking tech, leading edge for its time.

After the war, much later in the 70’s and 80’s this tech was used in synthesised music (Kraftwerk), used for voice synthesisers for people like Stephen Hawkins and is used to encrypt and compress all manner of stuff in our digital world.

The thing is a good deal of what we take for granted was pioneered many years ago, in an age that we see as almost stone age in comparison to our super teched up digitalised smartphone world.

Today, sticking a better camera in your phone gets many frothing at the mouth with excitement and wonder. But the real tech star was Homer Dudley back in the 1930’s.

Much of what we take for granted in so many ways, is, in fact, the result of 100’s and 1,000’s of years of trial and error. Whatever you are looking to create, it takes a lot experimenting sometimes to get there.

Be patient and be a pioneer, not a polisher of something that already exists.

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