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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Vintage)by George Dyson
Synopses & Reviews
“It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence,” twenty-four-year-old Alan Turing announced in 1936. In Turing’s Cathedral, George Dyson focuses on a small group of men and women, led by John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who built one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing’s vision of a Universal Machine. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things—and our universe would never be the same.
Using five kilobytes of memory (the amount allocated to displaying the cursor on a computer desktop of today), they achieved unprecedented success in both weather prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling, in their spare time, problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars.
Dyson’s account, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the hydrogen bomb. It’s no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time.
How did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing’s one-dimensional model became John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation, Turing’s Cathedral offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next.
An account of child genius Taylor Wilsonandrsquo;s successful quest to build his own nuclear reactor at the age of fourteen, and an exploration of how gifted children can be nurtured to do extraordinary things
How an American teenager became the youngest person ever to build a working nuclear fusion reactorand#160;
By the age of nine, Taylor Wilson had mastered the science of rocket propulsion. At eleven, his grandmotherandrsquo;s cancer diagnosis drove him to investigate new ways to produce medical isotopes. And by fourteen, Wilson had built a 500-million-degree reactor and become the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. How could someone so young achieve so much, and what can Wilsonandrsquo;s story teach parents and teachers about how to support high-achieving kids?
In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, science journalist Tom Clynes narrates Taylor Wilsonandrsquo;s extraordinary journeyandmdash;from his Arkansas home where his parents fully supported his intellectual passions, to a unique Reno, Nevada, public high school just for academic superstars, to the present, when now nineteen-year-old Wilson is winning international science competitions with devices designed to prevent terrorists from shipping radioactive material into the country. Along the way, Clynes reveals how our education system shortchanges gifted students, and what we can do to fix it.
A Wall Street Journal Best Business Book of 2012
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012
In this revealing account of how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II, George Dyson illuminates the nature of digital computers, the lives of those who brought them into existence, and how code took over the world.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, a small group of men and women—led by John von Neumann—gathered in Princeton, New Jersey, to begin building one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing’s vision of a Universal Machine. The codes unleashed within this embryonic, 5-kilobyte universe—less memory than is allocated to displaying a single icon on a computer screen today—broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things, and our universe would never be the same. Turing’s Cathedral is the story of how the most constructive and most destructive of twentieth-century inventions—the digital computer and the hydrogen bomb—emerged at the same time.
About the Author
George Dyson is a historian of technology whose interests include the development (and redevelopment) of the Aleut kayak (Baidarka), the evolution of digital computing and telecommunications (Darwin Among the Machines), and the exploration of space (Project Orion).
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