The Voynich Manuscript: why should anyone care?

By Gordon Rugg

It’s a valid question. Why should anyone care about an undeciphered hand-written manuscript that almost certainly contains nothing more interesting than mediaeval recipes?

There are various answers. One is simple curiosity. Another is the challenge: millions of people do crosswords every day, which involve challenges with even less meaningful content than a mediaeval recipt. A more potent reason is fame – the first person to crack a long-standing problem gets their time in the limelight.

There’s another reason, though, which has much bigger implications. Modern civilisation depends on safe, secure codes – they’re at the heart of the Internet, e-commerce and online banking, among other things. The best modern codes are impressively good, but they’re reaching the end of their shelf life, as increasingly powerful hardware and software make it possible to crack codes that would have been impregnable just a year or two ago. Code-makers are now searching for entirely different approaches to security: types of code based on utterly different principles to anything currently known, that could resist the best modern codebreakers not just for months, or for years, but for decades.

Like, maybe, the Voynich Manuscript.

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