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dust jacket, the front cover of Turing's Cathedral is devoted to an the main subject matter of Turing's Cathedral, .. . A Wall Street Journal Best Business Book of A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of In this revealing account of how the digital universe exploded in. pdf. Turing's cathedral: the origins of the digital universe (by Dyson, George) CHOICE July 1, Abstract Full Text Full Text (PDF) 1 of 1.

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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe and millions of other books are available for instant access. This item:Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson Paperback $ Start reading Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital. Editorial Reviews. Review. “The best book I've read on the origins of the computer not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange.”. PDF | Information & Computer Science QA76 CIP Dyson, George. Turing's cathedral: the origins of the digital universe.

Widely celebrated by historians of science for his contributions to physics, [End Page 6] mathematics, economics, and computer science, von Neumann is less well-known among the general public. Here, Dyson provides a concise and compelling biography that manages to humanize and, more impressively, make comprehensible the deep personal and intellectual connections between the wide-ranging interests and activities of this fascinating individual. The real subject of this book, however, is not a person at all, but rather a machine. Immediately following the end of the war, von Neumann leveraged his status and connections into a commitment by the IAS to build an electronic computer. During the war, his need to solve large numbers of hydrodynamic equations for blast calculations had lead him to the pioneering ENIAC project, and in the early Cold War race to build a hydrogen bomb, this military imperative became even more pressing. But von Neumann also had a larger, more ambitious agenda in mind.

For the first time, numbers could mean numbers or instructions. Data could be a noun or a verb.

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Von Neumann was no stereotypical mathematician. He was urbane, witty, wealthy and literally entitled. At his doctoral exam, the mathematician David Hilbert is said to have asked but one question: He invented the mathematical double entendre.

Turing’s Cathedral

In his famous proof, numbers carry two meanings — the familiar one designating a quantity, and an encoded one designating a logical proposition e. The tape is a crude form of memory, its contents doubling as data and code. The basic ideas of stored-program computers were therefore in place before von Neumann got to work. Yet it was he who had the prestige and the connections to turn the Turing machine into reality. A computer helped build the bomb, and the bomb necessitated ever more advanced computers.

They could be called the fathers of the open-source movement, as they ultimately declined to seek any patents. View all New York Times newsletters. Not all the ideas von Neumann donated to the public domain were exclusively his. Mauchly, a creator of the Eniac, complained. As organisms, we possess two outstanding repositories of information: the information conveyed by our genes, and the information stored in our brains. Both of these are based upon non-von-Neumann architectures, and it is no surprise that Von Neumann became fascinated with these examples as he left his chairmanship of the AEC where he had succeeded Lewis Strauss and began to lay out the research agenda that cancer prevented him from following up.

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Clearly, other traits of the statistical message could also be used: indeed, the frequency referred to is a property of a single train of pulses whereas every one of the relevant nerves consists of a large number of fibers, each of which transmits numerous trains of pulses.

It is, therefore, perfectly plausible that certain statistical relationships between such trains of pulses should also transmit information Whatever language the central nervous system is using, it is characterized by less logical and arithmetical depth than what we are normally used to [and] must structurally be essentially different from those languages to which our common experience refers.

As von Neumann explained in "A new, essentially logical, theory is called for in order to understand high-complication automata and, in particular, the central nervous system. It may be, however, that in this process logic will have to undergo a pseudomorphosis to neurology to a much greater extent than the reverse.

Life as we know it is based on digitally-coded instructions, translating between sequence and structure from nucleotides to proteins exactly as Turing prescribed. Ribosomes and other cellular machinery play the role of processors: reading, duplicating, and interpreting the sequences on the tape.


But this uncanny resemblance has distracted us from the completely different method of addressing by which the instructions are carried out.

It is almost incomprehensible that programs amounting to millions of lines of code, written by teams of hundreds of people, are able to go out into the computational universe and function as well as they do given that one bit in the wrong place or the wrong time can bring the process to a halt. Biology has taken a completely different approach. There is no unforgiving central address authority, and no unforgiving central clock.

This ability to take general, organized advantage of local, haphazard processes is exactly the ability that so far has distinguished information processing in living organisms from information processing by digital computers.

Of course, dreams of Object-Oriented Programming Languages and asynchronous processing have been around almost as long as digital computing, and content-addressable memory was one of the alternative architectures that Julian Bigelow, von Neumann's original chief architect, and many others have long had in mind.

With regard to the explicit address nuisance, studies have been made of the possibility of causing various elementary pieces of information situated in the cells of a large array say, of memory to enter into a computation process without explicitly generating a coordinate address in 'machine-space' for selecting them out of the array.

Google is building a new, content-addressable layer overlying the von Neumann matrix underneath.

Cathedral pdf turings

The details are mysterious but the principle is simple: it's a map. And, as Dutch and other merchants learned in the sixteenth century, great wealth can be amassed by Keepers of the Map. Once a system of template-based-addressing is in place, the door is opened to code that can interact directly with other code, free at last from a rigid bureaucracy requiring that every bit be assigned an exact address. This revolution will start with simple, basic coded objects, on the level of nucleotides heading out on their own and bringing amino acids back to a collective nest.

It is all over again. And it is back to Turing, who in his report on intelligent machinery to the National Physical Laboratory advised that "intellectual activity consists mainly of various kinds of search. They may, however, take a very long time to produce an answer in which case you build faster computers or it may take a very long time to ask the question in which case you hire more programmers. Computers have been getting better and better at providing answers — but only to questions that programmers are able to ask.

We can divide the computational universe into three sectors: computable problems; non-computable problems that can be given a finite, exact description but have no effective procedure to deliver a definite result ; and, finally, questions whose answers are, in principle, computable, but that, in practice, we are unable to ask in unambiguous language that computers can understand.

We do most of our computing in the first sector, but we do most of our living and thinking in the third. In the real world, most of the time, finding an answer is easier than defining the question.

It's easier to draw something that looks like a cat, for instance, than to describe what, exactly, makes something look like a cat.

A child scribbles indiscriminately, and eventually something appears that resembles a cat. A solution finds the problem, not the other way around. George Dyson is a science historian as well as a boat designer and builder.

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An important work. Dyson tells his story as a sort of intellectual caper film. He gathers his cast of characters. Creation stories are always worth telling, especially when they center on the birth of world-changing powers.


Dyson creatively recounts the curious Faustian bargain that permitted mathematicians to experiment with building more powerful computers, which in turn helped others build more destructive bombs. Employing letters, memoirs, oral histories and personal interviews, Dyson organizes his book around the personalities of the men and occasional woman behind the computer, and does a splendid job in bringing them to life. Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al.

But it is also a must read if you just want a ripping yarn about the way real scientists at least, some real scientists work and think.

‘Turing’s Cathedral,’ by George Dyson

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