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CHM Revolutionaries: Turing's Cathedral- Author George Dyson with Museum CEO John Hollar

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Published on Mar 19, 2012

[Recorded: March 7, 2012]
I am thinking about something much more important than bombs. I am thinking about computers.

John von Neumann, 1946


The most powerful technology of the last century was not the atomic bomb, but software—and both were invented by the same folks. Even as they were inventing it, the original geniuses imagined almost everything software has become since. At long last, George Dyson delivers the untold story of software's creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered.

Kevin Kelly,
cofounder of WIRED magazine, author of What Technology Wants


Legendary historian George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution—in other words, computer code.


In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses—led by John von Neumann—gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. George Dyson has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born.


Join John Hollar for a captivating conversation with Dyson about John von Neumann and the beginnings of the digital universe.

This event is part of our 2012 Revolutionaries series, featuring conversations with some of the most distinguished minds in the computing field.

Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.
Everyone uses computers. Few know the story of how they came to be. Revolution chronicles the evolution and impact of modern computing from the abacus to the smart phone. This 25,000 sq. ft multimedia experience is a technological wonderland that immerses visitors in the sights, sounds, and stories of the computer revolution. Be sure to visit the Birth of the Computer gallery, where you can learn more about early computers and the people involved in creating them.

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