Can you imagine life minus the computer? It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have them, yet today we carry them around in our pockets in the form of smartphones.
How did computers become such an important appliance in such a short amount of time? That’s the query that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a kind of personal history of the pc.
Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to many 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 development of the computer but also the personalities involved at the Princeton Institute. They weren’t always on the same page but managed to produce the first digital computer regardless.
When great minds work on a project there are certain to be rivalries and heated arguments, the creation of the computer was no different. This book reveals that the individuals that worked on this project were geniuses, not necessarily saints. Additionally there were some ethical problems that the creators of the computer faced while working on this project, because the work they were doing had a close connection with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You may think that a history of the computer will be a dull read. You may think that it might be filled with impossible-to-understand jargon. Fortunately, Dyson’s history of the computer is a fascinating read, and you do not need an advanced degree to understand it. Anybody who uses a computer – and that’s a lot of people today – should pick up a copy of Turing’s Cathedral. You might be astonished at what you learn.