It’s difficult to envision 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 become such a key appliance in such a short amount of time? This is the question that science historian and author George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a sort of personal history of the computer.
The son of scientist Freeman Dyson, George Dyson spent a lot of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The very first digital computers were built here under the guidance of scientist Josh von Neumann.
If you read Turing’s Cathedral it will surprise you at how much chance was involved in the development 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.
Genius or not, people are still people, and when working tightly on a single project there are certain to be rivalries and disagreements that occur. Turing’s Cathedral lays these things open, displaying the humanity of the scientist that created the first computer.It was not only the personal disputes that needed to be put aside to make this project prosperous; there were also ethical issues involved. The work that went into the creation of the computer walked hand in hand with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You might think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers must be filled with technical jargon. 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 these days.