Before coming to Virginia Tech, I.J. Good was at Bletchley Park
Irving John “Jack” Good (or I.J. Good, as he preferred) had an incredible life before coming to Virginia Tech in 1967 as a professor of statistics. Twenty-plus years earlier he worked alongside famed mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing as a member of the World War II code-breaking team at Bletchley Park in England.
He was born Isadore Jacob Gudak in London — he later anglicized his name — in 1916. According to a Virginia Tech story, Good was a child prodigy, independently discovering logarithms, the irrationality of the square root of two, and proof by induction at about the age of 9. Flashforward to 1941 when he completed his Ph.D. at Cambridge University and soon after arrived at Hut 8 of Bletchley Park.
There, Turing and his team built the “Heath Robinson,” one of the earliest computers, known as the Enigma, to break one of the German encryption systems. The massive machine used vacuum tubes, was highly unreliable, and required extensive statistical work, largely by Good and his long-time friend, the well-known artificial-intelligence pioneer Donald Michie.
The efforts of Turing, Good, and others at Bletchley helped bring the European Theatre of World War II to an end. Good was also one of the founders of modern Bayesian inference and the theory of the “weight of evidence.” His work led to the invention of penalized likelihood as a criterion for estimation, now an almost universal tool in data mining and analytics.
The efforts of Turing, Good, and others at Bletchley helped bring the European Theatre of World War II to an end.
Before coming to Virginia Tech, Good worked for the British Military Intelligence in the Government Communications Headquarters specializing in signals intelligence. He also held faculty positions at the University of Manchester — where he again worked with Turing — and at Oxford University.
In addition to joining Virginia Tech in 1967, Good also worked as a consultant on “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the famed Stanley Kubrick sci-fi film about a hyper-intelligent supercomputer that goes rogue during a spaceflight mission, killing most of the ship's crew. Good had earlier written articles warning of “ultraintelligent machines.”
Good was appointed University Distinguished Professor in 1969, and attained emeritus status in 1994. He lived in Blacksburg until his death in 2009.