It’s hard to envision life without the computer. Today we carry miniature computers – that’s what smartphones are, after all – in our pockets. Nevertheless, 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 small amount of time period in his book, Turing’s Cathedral.
Dyson has a distinctive vantage point which makes him the perfect author for this book. He’s the son of a top scientist, Freeman Dyson and, due to this, has spent much of his years at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The Institute was home to the globe’s most talented scientific minds – included Einstein’s – as they were in the midst of building and operating the first digital computers under the guidance of scientist Josh von Neumann.
Turing’s Cathedral explores the invention of the computer, emphasizing the contrasting personalities which were thrown together to work on the project. It also explores what was involved in the invention of the computer, much of which was chance.
When great minds work on a project there are sure to be rivalries and heated disagreements, the development of the computer was no different. This book demonstrates that the individuals that worked on this project were geniuses, certainly not saints. Moreover there were some moral problems that the creators of the computer faced while working on this project, since the work they were doing had a close association with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You might think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers has to be crammed with technical lingo. 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.