It’s hard to envision life without the computer. Today we carry miniature computers – that’s what smartphones are, after all – in our pockets. However, there was a time when the majority of consumers didn’t have a single computer within their homes.
George Dyson, a science historian, asks how we went from having no computers to having so many in such a brief time period in his book, Turing’s Cathedral.
Dyson has a unique vantage point which makes him the perfect author for this book. He’s the son of a top scientist, Freeman Dyson and, consequently, has spent much of his years at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The Institute was home to the globe’s most capable scientific minds – included Einstein’s – as they were in the middle of building and operating the very first digital computers under the guidance of scientist Josh von Neumann.
If you read Turing’s Cathedral it may surprise you at just 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 were able to create the first digital computer nevertheless.
Genius or not, people are still people, and when working tightly on the same project there are certain to be rivalries and disagreements that happen. Turing’s Cathedral lays these matters open, displaying the humanity of the scientist that came up with the first computer.It was not only the personal disputes that needed to be set aside to make this project prosperous; there were also ethical issues involved. The work that went into the development of the computer walked hand in hand with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You may have the idea that a history book about computers won’t just be dry but also full of complicated jargon. This is not the case with Turing’s Cathedral; most people who use computers will find this book interesting. Which is a lot of people today.