In late 1945, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann and a small group of fellow nonconformists began designing, building and programming a high-speed electronic digital computer with five kilobytes of storage. George Dyson marks this pivotal event as the dawn of the digital age in his mesmerizing new book Turing’s Cathedral.
As Dyson explains, von Neumann’s project was the physical realization of Alan Turing’s Universal Machine: a theoretical construct conceived in 1936. The IAS computer was the first to make full use of a high-speed, random access storage matrix, and consequently became the machine whose codes were most widely replicated and whose logical architecture was most widely reproduced in the years to come. “The structure of the entire digital universe—from a single iPod to the internet,” writes Dyson, “can be traced directly to this 32-by-32-40-bit nucleus that was brought into existence in the aftermath of World War II.”
Dyson also shows how the drive to develop the IAS computer was inextricably bound up with the initiative to build the hydrogen bomb. Computers, Dyson reminds us, were essential to the initiation of nuclear explosions, and to understanding what happens after a bomb goes off. “Computers were testing bombs, and bombs were testing computers” throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Dyson reports. In introducing us to the men and women responsible for this work, and illuminating in detail what they accomplished, the book covers a chapter in the history of technology that has not previously been conveyed as vividly as in these pages.
Where and when did our modern era of computing begin? Turing’s Cathedral holds the answers.
Hardcover Book : 320 pages
Publisher: Pantheon Books Inc./Random House ( February 28, 2012 )
Item #: 13-483475
Product Dimensions: 6.25 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 29.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)