Bletchley Park’s new exhibition explores impact smart devices have on our daily lives

Living Magazines Bletchley Park, Hut 1, credit Bureau for Visual Affairs

A never-before-displayed wartime radio, secret index cards and a map plotting the course of a German U-boat are just some of the items on display in a new exhibition at Bletchley Park, in Milton Keynes. The epicentre of World War Two codebreaking and the British wartime signals intelligence hub, now an independent museum and heritage site, is proud to be the first venue to host Never Alone: What Happens When Everything is Connected? based on an exhibition created by the National Science and Media Museum, part of the Science Museum Group.

This topical exhibition, open now until 2 February 2021, explores trends and issues around the Internet of Things – an ever-increasing network of internet-connected devices which now outnumber people living on earth. Drawing on the parallels with Bletchley Park’s wartime surveillance of enemy personnel and operations, and exploitation of information at scale, visitors will be invited to explore questions around security and privacy by examining wartime archive materials alongside modern smart object.

The exhibition in Hut 12 looks at four subject areas – objects that relate to tracking, surveillance and smart homes, and a final section on bias exploring the ways devices can reflect the human values of their programmers and developers. Contemporary items like an Amazon Echo Dot, internet-connected toys (including the My Friend Cayla doll, which appeared in many ‘toy of the year’ lists on release in 2015/16 but was subsequently banned in Germany due to concerns over privacy and safety), are displayed alongside a wartime radio and template forms used by World War Two intercept stations to track enemy movements, and index cards logging information about key enemy personnel.

Visitors to the exhibition are also encouraged to answer some timely questions on the use of personal data, voting if it is ok for biological and medical information to be tracked, a topic that is particularly poignant given the current pandemic.

Erica Munro, Exhibition Manager at Bletchley Park said: ‘Recent events have shown just how big an impact technology has on our lives, and that the collection and exploitation of data is still an ever-more relevant topic in the twenty-first century. Handling intercepted information at scale and exploiting it was key to the wartime work at Bletchley Park, and we are excited to be hosting this exhibition, looking at the impact internet-connected items have on our lives today. The exhibition considers the positive improvements these devices can make to our lives, as well as encouraging visitors to question how our personal data is used, and how the connected world should be managed.’

Alice Parsons, Interpretation Manager at the National Science and Media Museum said: ‘Never Alone is an urgent look at how internet surveillance and connectivity is changing how we live, work and play, and it just as pressing now as when it was first developed. To have the exhibition at Bletchley Park, an iconic location for security and surveillance, is a perfect fit for the exhibition. We’re so excited that unique objects from the Bletchley Park collection are being used to further explore these burning questions and continue the conversation.’

Never Alone is open now until 2 February 2021. Entry to the exhibition is included with a general admission ticket which gives visitors unlimited free returns for twelve months (pre-booking essential.) Under 12s visit for free (must be accompanied by an adult).