Thursday, April 03, 2014

Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

Where did computers come from? Despite Turing having his name in the title, this book focuses on the roll of John von Neumann. A math genius as a child, he played a central part in bringing about the early computers. There were also other players who helped influence the computer revolution. The recruiting of refugees from Europe to American universities helped get the brain power together. The need to rapidly calculate trajectories for warfare helped to provide a goal (and a source for funding.)

The book suffers from not knowing what it wants to be. At times it is a history of the origin of the computer. Then it switches to biography mode, providing intimate details of the lives and relationships of the people involved. Then it makes another abrupt turn and decides it is going to talk about the philosophy of the digital universe. Perhaps each of these could have made a compelling book. Alas, all three together do not work well.

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