is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any
computable sequence,” twenty-four-year-old Alan Turing announced in 1936. In Turing’s
Cathedral, George Dyson focuses on a small group of men and women, led by
John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey,
who built one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing’s vision of a
Universal Machine. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that mean
things and numbers that do things, and our universe would never be the
five kilobytes of memory (the amount allocated to displaying the cursor on a
computer desktop of today), they achieved unprecedented success in both weather
prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling, in their spare time,
problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars.
account, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the
digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation
of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the
decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the
hydrogen bomb. It’s no coincidence that the most destructive and the most
constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time.
did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing’s one-dimensional
model became John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation, Turing’s
Cathedral offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the
digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next. Download and start listening now!