Turing's Cathedral

Turing's Cathedral : The Origins of the Digital Universe

By (author) George Dyson , Read by Arthur Morey

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"It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence," twenty-four-year-old Alan Turing announced in 1936. In "Turing's Cathedral," George Dyson focuses on a small group of men and women, led by John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who built one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing's vision of a Universal Machine. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that "mean" things and numbers that "do" things--and our universe would never be the same. Using five kilobytes of memory (the amount allocated to displaying the cursor on a computer desktop of today), they achieved unprecedented success in both weather prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling, in their spare time, problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars. Dyson's account, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the hydrogen bomb. It's no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time. How did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing's one-dimensional model became John von Neumann's two-dimensional implementation, "Turing's Cathedral" offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next.

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  • CD-Audio | 13 pages
  • 129.54 x 149.86 x 43.18mm | 385.55g
  • 15 Mar 2012
  • Random House USA Inc
  • Random House Inc
  • New York
  • English
  • Unabridged
  • Unabridged
  • 0307969061
  • 9780307969064

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Author Information

George Dyson is a historian of technology whose interests include the development (and redevelopment) of the Aleut kayak ("Baidarka), " the evolution of digital computing and telecommunications" (Darwin Among the Machines), " and the exploration of space "(Project Orion)."

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Review quote

"Dyson combines his prodigious skills as a historian and writer with his privileged position within the [Institute for Advanced Study's] history to present a vivid account of the digital computer project . . . A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al." --Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing "A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and '50s . . . It demonstrates that the power of human thought often precedes determination and creativity in the birth of world-changing technology . . . An important work." --Richard DiDio, "Philadelphia Inquirer" "Dyson's book is not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange." --Josh Rothman, Braniac blog, "Boston Globe" " " "Beyond the importance of this book as a contribution to the history of science, as a generalist I was struck by Dyson's eye and ear for the delightfully entertaining detail . . . Turing's Cathedral is suffused . . . with moments of insight, quirk and hilarity rendering it more than just a great book about science. It's a great book, period." --Douglas Bell, "The Globe and Mail" "The greatest strength of Turing's Cathedral lies in its luscious wealth of anecdotal details about von Neumann and his band of scientific geniuses at IAS. Dyson himself is the son of Freeman Dyson, one of America's greatest twentieth-century physicists and an IAS member from 1948 onward, and so Turing's Cathedral is, in part, Dyson's attempt to make both moral and intellectual sense of his father's glittering and yet severely compromised scient

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