John von Neumann and J. Robert Oppenheimer with the MANIAC. Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum.
The pioneering work of Manhattan Project scientists such as Richard Feynman, Nick Metropolis and John von Neumann paved the way for high-speed scientific computing. Did you know that one of the first computers was invented to help with calculations for the first hydrogen bomb?
In Turing’s Cathedral, released on March 5, historian George Dyson chronicles the development of the MANIAC, an early computer, after World War II at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Some of the greatest mathematicians of the age worked to create the MANIAC, including von Neumann and Alan Turing. Although the MANIAC ran on only 5 kilobytes of memory—an unimaginably small number today, when your typical computer runs on memory 1 million times that of MANIAC’s--it was used not only to help with the creation of the first hydrogen bomb, but also to predict the weather.
George, the son of renowned theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, grew up in Princeton among the computer’s creators. In Turing’s Cathedral, Dyson recounts the origin and evolution of the “digital universe,” and explains what the future may hold.
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