I. J. Good

I. J. Good bigraphy, stories - Statistician, cryptographer

I. J. Good : biography

1916-12-9 – 05 April 2009

Irving John ("I. J."; "Jack") Good (9 December 1916 – 5 April 2009) The Times of 16-apr-09, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6100314.ece was a British mathematician who worked as a cryptologist at Bletchley Park with Alan Turing. After World War II, Good continued to work with Turing on the design of computers and Bayesian statistics at the University of Manchester. Good moved to the United States where he was professor at Virginia Tech.

He was born Isadore Jacob Gudak to a Polish-Jewish family in London. He later anglicized his name to Irving John Good and signed his publications "I. J. Good."

An originator of the concept now known as "technological singularity," Good served as consultant on supercomputers to Stanley Kubrick, director of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Good was born Isadore Jacob Gudak to Polish-Jewish parents in London. His father was a watchmaker, who later managed and owned a successful fashionable jewelry shop, and was also a notable Yiddish writer writing under the pen-name of Moshe Oved. Good was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Hampstead, north London, where, Dan van der Vat writes, Good effortlessly outpaced the mathematics curriculum.Dan van der Vat, "Jack Good" (obituary), The Guardian, 29 April 2009, p. 32.

Good studied mathematics at Jesus College, Cambridge, graduating in 1938 and winning the Smith’s Prize in 1940. He did research under G.H. Hardy and Besicovitch before moving to Bletchley Park in 1941 on completing his doctorate.

Bletchley Park

On 27 May 1941, having just obtained his doctorate at Cambridge, Good walked into Hut 8, Bletchley’s facility for breaking German naval ciphers, for his first shift. This was the day that Britain’s Royal Navy destroyed the after it had sunk the Royal Navy’s . Bletchley had contributed to Bismarcks destruction by discovering, through wireless-traffic analysis, that the German flagship was sailing for Brest, France, rather than Wilhelmshaven, from which she had set out. Hut 8 had not, however, been able to decrypt on a current basis the 22 German Naval Enigma messages that had been sent to Bismarck. The German Navy’s Enigma ciphers were considerably more secure than those of the German Army or Air Force, which had been well penetrated by 1940. Naval messages were taking three to seven days to decrypt, which usually made them operationally useless for the British. This was about to change, however, with Good’s help.

Good served with Turing for nearly two years.

Subsequently he worked with Donald Michie in Max Newman’s group on the Fish ciphers, leading to the development of the Colossus computer.

Good was a member of the Bletchley Chess Club which defeated the Oxford University Chess Club 8–4 in a twelve-board team match held on 2 December 1944. Good played fourth board for Bletchley Park, with C.H.O’D. Alexander, Harry Golombek, and James Macrae Aitken in the top three spots. by Edward Winter; based on a report from CHESS, February 1945, p. 73.

Postwar work

In 1947 Newman invited Good to join him and Turing at Manchester University. There for three years Good lectured in mathematics and researched computers, including the Manchester Mark 1.

In 1948 Good was recruited by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), successor to Bletchley Park. He remained there until 1959, while also taking up a brief associate professorship at Princeton University and a short consultancy with IBM.

From 1959 until he moved to the U.S. in 1967, Good held government-funded positions and from 1964 a senior research fellowship at Trinity College, Oxford, and the Atlas Computer Laboratory, where he continued his interests in computing, statistics and chess. He later left Oxford, declaring it "a little stiff".

United States

In 1967 Good moved to the United States, where he was appointed a research professor of statistics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In 1969 he was appointed a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, and in 1994 Emeritus University Distinguished Professor.