Friday, March 30, 2012

The Humanity Behind the Invention of the Computer

What would existence be like without a computer? It’s difficult to imagine but it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have them. Now a lot of us carry numerous computers, i.e. laptops, e-readers, and smartphones.

How did computers become such an important appliance in such a short amount of time? That's the question that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing's Cathedral, a kind of personal history of the computer.


Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent a lot of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to some of the world’s most powerful scientific minds while the first digital computer was being developed.

If you read Turing's Cathedral it may surprise you at how much chance was involved in the creation 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 nevertheless.

When great minds work on a project there are sure to be rivalries and heated disagreements, the creation of the computer was no different. This book reveals that the individuals that worked on this project were geniuses, certainly not saints. Moreover there were some ethical issues that the creators of the computer faced while working on this project, since the work they were doing had a close relationship with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You might think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers must be brimming with technical lingo. Turing's Cathedral does not fit that image at all. Anyone who uses a computer will find this book interesting. Which is an awful lot of people these days.

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