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Turing's cathedral: the origins of the digital universe

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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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Grouping Information

Grouped Work ID 45e65814-9db2-1853-cd83-fcc8367bfc9e
Grouping Title turing s cathedral the origins of the digital universe
Grouping Author dyson george
Grouping Category book
Last Grouping Update 2020-05-30 23:04:26PM
Last Indexed 2020-05-31 00:02:48AM

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display_description "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"-- Provided by publisher.
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publishDate 2012
Bib IdFormatFormat CategoryEditionLanguagePublisherPublication DatePhysical Description
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subject_facet Computable functions
Computers -- History
Random access memory
Turing machines
Turing, Alan Mathison, -- 1912-1954
Von Neumann, John, -- 1903-1957
title_display Turing's cathedral : the origins of the digital universe
title_full Turing's Cathedral The Origins of the Digital Universe
Turing's cathedral : the origins of the digital universe / George Dyson
title_short Turing's cathedral :
title_sub the origins of the digital universe
topic_facet Biography & Autobiography
Computable functions
Computer Technology
Random access memory
Turing machines
Turing, Alan Mathison
Von Neumann, John