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Turing's Cathedral

The Origins of the Digital Universe
Dyson, George (Book - 2012 )
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Turing's Cathedral


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"Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution--in other words, computer code. In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses--led by John von Neumann--gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. George Dyson has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born"-- "Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution--in other words, computer code"--
Authors: Dyson, George, 1953-
Title: Turing's cathedral
the origins of the digital universe
Publisher: New York :, Pantheon Books,, 2012
Edition: 1st ed
Contents: 1953
Olden Farm
Veblen's circle
Neumann János
MANIAC
Fuld 219
6J6
V-40
Cyclogenesis
Monte Carlo
Ulam's demons
Barricelli's universe
Turing's cathedral
Engineer's dreams
Theory of self-reproducing automata
Mach 9
The tale of the big computer
The thirty-ninth step
Summary: ["Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution--in other words, computer code. In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses--led by John von Neumann--gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. George Dyson has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born"--, "Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution--in other words, computer code"--]
Local Note: (03/12)ss
PromptCat
ISBN: 9780375422775
0375422773
Branch Call Number: Non-F 004.09 Dys
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Report This Mar 17, 2014
  • PersephoneC rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Some of this material is w-a-a-a-y over my head but author George Dyson kept the narrative moving so I was able to stick with it. The book is a fascinating history of early computing and it has spurred my interest to explore further.

Despite the title, only obliquely related to British mathematician and founder of the field of computer science, Alan Turing. Instead the focus is on von Neumann's development of early tube computers and their use in the design of thermo-nuclear weapons. If you'd like a sense of what it was like during those heady days at Princeton with von Neumann, Kurt Goedel, and Albert Einstein as faculty members, this is a good read. My only complaint is the author tends to lose focus and wander, rather than staying to the important themes and their resolution. In an apparent attempt to be provide the ultimate comprehensive biography, he gets bogged down in unimportant details, for example von Neumann's traffic tickets. This tends to make the going a little scatter-shot and tedius at times.

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A semi-biography of Hungarian scientist John von Neumann, who left Nazi Europe in the 1930's, and landed at the Princeton Advanced Study Institute, along with Kurt Goedel and Albert Einstein. In particular, Von Neumann's leadership in the design of the earliest electronic tube computers based on the Turing stored-program architecture, and then how these computers were used to design the first thermo- nuclear weapons

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