Can you imagine life without the computer? It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have them, yet today we carry them around inside our purses in the form of smartphones.
George Dyson, a science historian, asks how we went from having no computers to having many in such a brief time period in his book, Turing’s Cathedral.
The son of scientist Freeman Dyson, George Dyson spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The first digital computers were built here under the assistance of scientist Josh von Neumann.
If you read Turing’s Cathedral it will surprise you at how much chance was involved in the development of the machines that let to computers. The book not only highlights the creation of the computer but also the personalities involved at the Princeton Institute. They weren’t always on the same page but managed to create the first digital computer regardless.
Like all great projects, this one included more than its share of rivalries, fall-outs, and, certainly, salty language. The individuals powering this project were geniuses. They weren’t saints. The book also covers the important ethical issues the creators of the computer faced by the close relationship of their computer work to the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You may think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers has to be crammed with technical jargon. Turing’s Cathedral doesn’t fit that image at all. Anyone who uses a computer will find this book intriguing. Which is an awful lot of people today.
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