In the 1940s and 1950s, a group of brilliant engineers led by John von Neumann gathered in Princeton, New Jersey with the joint goal of realizing Alan Turing’s theoretical universal machine-a thought experiment that scientists use to understand the limits of mechanical computation. As a result of their fervent work, the crucial advancements that dominated 20th century technology emerged. In Turing’s Cathedral, technology historian George Dyson recreates the scenes of focused experimentation, mathematical insight, and creative genius that broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things-giving us computers, digital television, modern genetics, and models of stellar evolution. Also a philosopher of science, Dyson’s previous books include Baidarka, Darwin Among the Machines, and Project Orion. (recorded 3/13/2012)
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The driving force behind modern computers, Alan Turing was born a hundred years ago. He launched the digital age, founded the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence, and helped the British win WWII by cracking the Nazi "Enigma" codes. He was persecuted by British authorities for the crime of being homosexual, and committed suicide at age 41. His life ended tragically, but his brilliance lives in the computers we use every day. We celebrate the Alan Turing Year.
"As a working hypothesis to explain the riddle of our existence," says Freeman Dyson, "I propose that our universe is the most interesting of all possible universes, and our fate as human beings is to make it so." One of the characteristics of diversity—in science, in technology, in biology, in culture, in software, or in children—is that the underlying programming tends to be open source, or connected in all directions. Freeman Dyson and George Dyson think in all directions, but each filters through a particular lens: Freeman Dyson writes about the future and George Dyson writes about the past. This discussion, moderated by Tim O’Reilly, goes in both directions. Questions from the audience are invited either spontaneously or in advance. (Unfortunately the third Dyson, Esther, was unable to participate, having been stuck in Texas.)
This keynote presentation was recorded at the Open Source Convention (OSCON) 2004 in Portland, Oregon.
George Dyson: Turing’s Cathedral - The Origins of the Digital Universe (3/8/12)