Front cover image for Turing's cathedral : the origins of the digital universe

Turing's cathedral : the origins of the digital universe

In this book the author re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution, in other words, computer code. In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses, led by John von Neumann, gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. They achieved unprecedented success in both weather prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. The author has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born
Print Book, English, 2012
Pantheon Books, New York, 2012