It’s difficult to imagine life without the computer. Today we carry small computers – that’s what smartphones are, after all – in our pockets. However, there was a time when the greater part of consumers did not have a single computer in their homes.
How did computers turn into such an essential appliance in such a short amount of time? This is the query that science historian and author George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a kind of personal history of the computer.
The son of scientist Freeman Dyson, George Dyson spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The very first digital computers were built here under the direction of scientist Josh von Neumann.
After you’ve read Turing’s Cathedral, you’ll discover just how much chance went into developing the machine that led to the computers we currently take for granted. The personalities at the Princeton Institute didn’t often mesh well, but somehow they managed to create the world’s first digital computer. This machine was created and run from an otherwise nondescript building in New Jersey.
Genius or not, people are still people, and when working tightly on a single project there are bound to be rivalries and disagreements that happen. Turing’s Cathedral lays these things open, showing the humanity of the scientist that created the first computer.It was not only the personal disputes that needed to be set aside to make this project productive; 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 notion that a history book about computers won’t just be dry but also full of technical jargon. This is not true with Turing’s Cathedral; most people who use computers will find this book interesting. And that is a lot of people these days.