Can you imagine life without the computer? It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have them, yet today we carry them around inside our pockets in the form of smartphones.
How did our culture go from no computers to having so much access to them in such a short time? George Dyson, a science historian, asks this question in his book, Turing’s Cathedral.
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 a few of the world’s most powerful scientific minds while the first digital computer was being created.
If you read Turing’s Cathedral it will surprise you at just 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 create the first digital computer nevertheless.
Genius or not, people are still people, and when working tightly on a single project there are sure to be rivalries and disagreements that arise. Turing’s Cathedral lays these things open, showing the humanity of the scientist that came up with the first computer.It wasn’t only the personal disputes that needed to be set aside to make this project productive; there were also moral issues involved. The work that went into the creation of the computer walked hand in hand with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You may have the idea that a history book about computers won’t just be dry but also full of technical jargon. This is not the case with Turing’s Cathedral; most people who use computers will find this book interesting. Which is a lot of people these days.