Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

Histories of Exceptional Individuals and Scientific Breakthroughs”: With George Dyson, historian of technology, and author of the new book of the same name; hosted by Don Budinger, Chair and Founding Director, The Rodel Foundations

GD: For some reason I built a treehouse 95 feet up in a doug fir and then lived there for three years. That’s where the book came from. It irritated me that someone was telling my story, so I became a writer.

Rebelling against his own image as rebel against academic system by writing about science. Became an academic authority.

Back to highschool, used to skip school. Knew exactly how many days you could be missing without them calling your parents. Instead snuck into library, spent his time reading books.

Many claim to be father of computing. History of computing can be divided into old and new testaments. The prophet of new testament is Johnny van Neumann.

Turing laid the foundations for the whole world.

DB: Where does Tom Watson, IBM’s sponsorship come into this?

Johnny van Neumann started consulting for IBM, which is how Turing’s ideas made it into IBM.

The real problem was the memory. How do you build a new, fast memory?

Van Neumann wanted to do it at the speed of light, which was a game changer enabled by using an electron beam as the switch. With the transistor, we got rid of vacuum tubes. The transistor really was fundamental.

DB: That truly was a revolution. Started a whole sequence of modern technology.

GD: Richard Feynman wrote in a paper that if we could start making computers smaller, we’d be able to use them to make more smaller machines.

I believe we are actually returning to analog computing, which was thrown out in WWII.

Analog computing has powers that can go beyond speed. The complexity is not done so much in the code itself but in the topology.

All we know about Moore’s law is that it has continued on. I think it will keep going.

DB: Do you envision a future where we move away from 2d silicon wafers to 3D molecules?

GD: Yes. Definitely. People are doing that now. It may become a biological game. Life is analog, but every generation becomes digital in order to do error correction.

Industry leaders do not invite him to consult with them, but there’s a big value in bringing in historians and biologists.

I’m the outsider who looks at this from a different perspective. It’s too late to stop that.

DB: Why doesn’t human achievement model show up in more industries?

GD: It’s transforming the industries it does touch. Robotics, like iRobot Roombas are really just lines of code. Turing was heartbroken by only two requests for his paper.

What I want is an iPad with solar panels on top.

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