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The Humanity Behind the Invention of the Computer

Business Technology | March 30, 2012

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 in our purses in the form of smartphones.

How did computers develop into such an essential appliance in such a short amount of time? That’s the question that science historian and author 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 whilst 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 creation 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.

Like all great projects, this one included more than its share of rivalries, fall-outs, and, of course, salty language. The individuals behind this project were geniuses. They were not saints. The book also covers the important moral issues the creators of the computer faced by the close relationship of their computer work to the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You may think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers has to be crammed with technical jargon. Turing’s Cathedral does not fit that image at all. Anybody who uses a computer will find this book interesting. Which is an awful lot of people these days.


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