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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe | [George Dyson]

Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

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. 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....
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Publisher's Summary

Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly 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. 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. George Dyson 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.

©2012 George Dyson (P)2012 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

“The most powerful technology of the last century was not the atomic bomb, but software - and both were invented by the same folks. Even as they were inventing it, the original geniuses imagined almost everything software has become since. At long last, George Dyson delivers the untold story of software’s creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered.” (Kevin Kelly, cofounder of WIRED magazine, author of What Technology Wants)

“It is a joy to read George Dyson’s revelation of the very human story of the invention of the electronic computer, which he tells with wit, authority, and insight. Read Turing’s Cathedral as both the origin story of our digital universe and as a perceptive glimpse into its future.” (W. Daniel Hillis, inventor of The Connection Machine, author of The Pattern on the Stone)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (164 )
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Performance
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  •  
    john Battery Point, Australia 01-29-13
    john Battery Point, Australia 01-29-13 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Turing's vision; Von Neumann's construction"

    While good coverage and credit is given to Turing for the ideas that he had and the work he did to spark the computer revolution this book is more focused on Von Neumann as the driving force behind creating the machine at the Institute for Advanced Studies, sometimes referred to as MANIAC.

    I assume that the book title may have been driven a little by marketing department awareness that Alan Turing has become a commonly known name amongst those with more than passing interest in the history of computing while Von Neumann is yet to gain the 'household name' level of recognition that he deserves.

    While the 'Turing Machine' was a stunning intellectual achievement in abstract thinking about the science and mathematics of computing the actual machines that we are using are often, and rightly, described as 'Von Neumann Machines'

    If you know the subject well this is a great summary and includes interesting facts that you may well not know about just how things got done. If the way Turing's ideas ended up in the machine you are reading this one is not familiar to you then this is the best way of filling in that gap that I know of.

    The pace is good and the tone conversational (this is a history of people and ideas, not a text book) and the delivery is in the upper end of Audible's range.

    If you care about how the computer revolution that we are living through got through it's teething stages and got to its feet and started walking then I can highly recommend this as an entertaining and informative way to learn a lot more than I thought I would in a weekend's listening.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Monte Johnston Clayton, NC 03-12-12
    Monte Johnston Clayton, NC 03-12-12 Member Since 2010

    ...master of none

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Needed an editor"
    Would you try another book from George Dyson and/or Arthur Morey?

    No.


    What was most disappointing about George Dyson???s story?

    What was most disappointing about the story is that there was no story. At different points in the book it seems a story of Von Neumann, the Institute of Advanced Study, the development of computer technology, a hundred other scientists and engineers, etc. It ends up being none of them. It seems more like a collection of notebooks that contained the potential to form a good book or story.

    I was even hoping to learn a bit more of the technology of computers, but all explanations were given in the language of engineers. The book on the Eniac available on audible is much better.


    Did Arthur Morey do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    The performance was fine.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Couldn't have been much more disappointed.


    Any additional comments?

    Save your credits.

    15 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-21-14
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-21-14 Member Since 2015

    Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Déjà vu"

    Reading the “New York Times”, Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 the front page of “Business Day” shows an article about Google called “Search and Replace”. In the same edition, there is an article by Shane Harris on the editorial page, “Giving In to the Surveillance State”. Both articles infer a dystopian future envisioned by Johnny Von Neumann and Alan Turing, the primary geniuses of the computer generation’s beginnings in the middle of the 20th century. "Turing's Cathedral", a history of computer science in the 1940s, is strikingly like the 2012 NYT's articles--“Déjà vu”.

    Near the end of George Dyson’s book, a chapter is written about the potential of a computer that can dream, based on an accumulation of all the world’s known publications, communications, and locations, to answer any question about the world that is known by the collective mind of man. Nils Aall Barricelli envisions world domination by artificial intelligence. The entry to that world is “Turing’s Cathedral”, a mansion of the entire world’s information that is being built to be occupied by a wired or wireless connection to human brains.

    “Turing’s Cathedral” seems to be more than a church of knowledge and mankind seems to be less than the soul of a machine.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Kalus 12-22-12
    M. Kalus 12-22-12

    Jack of all Trades, Master of None

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A fascinating look at the people behind it all"
    What did you love best about Turing's Cathedral?

    It gave an interesting perspective about how and why the modern day computer was invented, including some amusing insights to some of the brightest minds of the 20th century.


    What did you like best about this story?

    That it was real :)


    What about Arthur Morey’s performance did you like?

    I thought it was well executed, as the book doesn't really feature any dialog or characters the "neutral" delivery was appreciated.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Nothing in particular, but there were a lot of little chuckles when it came to some of these people's behaviour. In no small part because it makes these mythical people human.


    Any additional comments?

    I wish there would have been a bit more attention being paid to other pioneers in the computing field, but having said that, their legacy really lives on by the technology I use right now to write these words so: *raises glass*

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Monte Clayton, NC, United States 03-12-12
    Monte Clayton, NC, United States 03-12-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Needed an editor"
    Would you try another book from George Dyson and/or Arthur Morey?

    No.


    What was most disappointing about George Dyson’s story?

    What was most disappointing about the story is that there was no story. At different points in the book it seems a story of Von Neumann, the Institute of Advanced Study, the development of computer technology, a hundred other scientists and engineers, etc. It ends up being none of them. It seems more like a collection of notebooks that contained the potential to form a good book or story.

    I was even hoping to learn a bit more of the technology of computers, but all explanations were given in the language of engineers. The book on the Eniac available on audible is much better.


    Did Arthur Morey do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    The performance was fine.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Couldn't have been much more disappointed.


    Any additional comments?

    Save your credits.

    13 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 08-08-12
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 08-08-12 Member Since 2014

    Letting the rest of the world go by

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    "Too much history not enough Turing"

    One of the few books where I did not listen to all of it. I generally love any book about Turing or information theory, but he delved too much in to the history. I really didn't need to know that the Indian tribe was on the site of the think tank before the think tank was built on it and so on. Not enough on Turing and his theory and too much history for my taste. (If you like history more than information theory, the book can work for you and go ahead and give it a try)

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 05-21-12
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 05-21-12 Member Since 2014

    Retired, bike rider, and love science and technology audible books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Too much history not enough Turing"

    One of the few books where I did not read it all. I generally love any book about Turing or information theory, but he delved too much in to the history. I really didn't need to know that the Indian tribe was on the site of the think tank before the think tank was built on it and so on. Not enough on Turing and his theory and too much history for my taste. (If you like history more than information theory, the book can work for you and go ahead and give it a try).

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bob 03-07-12
    Bob 03-07-12
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    "Where's the beef?"
    What did you like best about Turing's Cathedral? What did you like least?

    The narrator is good.


    What could George Dyson have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Reduced the biographical information about everone in the book. Especially the pointless trivia associated with relatives, houses,cars, boats, roads, pets, etc etc. A concise bio of each of the major players would have been enough to give a background. I am a quarter of the way through the book and have not heard anything significant on the subject matter as of yet. I keep skipping chapters to keep from falling asleep. Too many authors fluff out there books with these boring and irrelevant facts all intermingled with the limited subject matter. I am usually asleep when what few informative paragraphs are read.


    What does Arthur Morey bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?

    Makes me feel like something about this purchase had some value.


    Could you see Turing's Cathedral being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    Everyone under the sun in every country of the world. AND their mothers!


    Any additional comments?

    Classify it as a biography. Or biographies.

    14 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    pcwright@prodigy.net Los Angeles 01-14-15
    pcwright@prodigy.net Los Angeles 01-14-15 Member Since 2002

    Audiobooks changed my life. My career as a trial lawyer left no time for recreational anything, much less reading. But then . . .

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Like the subject? You will enjoy this book."

    This is about some of the most important people of the 20th Century you may have never heard of. John Von Neumann? maybe, but Stanley Ulam? It was a first for me. For better or worse and people do see these thing differently, the relentless implementation of ideas from from almost nothing to today's laptop, cell phone and even that thing that manages your automobile engine and are now seemingly crucial to our lives, perhaps even to our civilization. I read this book almost two years ago and it made me dizzy with the extraordinary stories of ultra (pun intended) brilliant human beings and the amazingly creative solutions they devised to make the first universal computing machine from parts so crude and unreliable that you would have never given it a chance. Much of what they devised is not only standard in today's computer programs, but are named after them. Recently, I saw the movie, "The Imitation Game" which focused on Alan Turing's remarkable contribution the British breaking the Nazi's unbreakable code and in no insignificant way win the war. So, I gave Turing's Cathedral another shot. Let's face it, you could read it five times and the information is so densely packed you will get large new insights and understanding each time. As I said at the beginning, you have to like the subject matter, but if you do, you will really enjoy this book - perhaps again, and even again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Simon 05-08-14
    Simon 05-08-14 Member Since 2013
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    "This book cannot see the wood for the trees"
    What disappointed you about Turing's Cathedral?

    So many irrelevant facts it is really hard to pay attention and filter out the interesting parts... It feels like there are 100 irrelevant pieces of information for every relevant insight.
    For a book called "Turing's Cathedral" you would expect Alan Turing to play at least a decent part... I'm amazed to have gotten nearly a quarter through the book and he has barely been mentioned.


    Would you ever listen to anything by George Dyson again?

    Not likely.


    How could the performance have been better?

    Stick to the relevant facts and tell what must be a compelling story about the key players involved in creating the field of computing.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Frustration...


    Any additional comments?

    Disappointed to have used a Credit on this.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 16 results PREVIOUS12NEXT
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  • Ross
    Faversham, United Kingdom
    12/27/12
    Overall
    "Fascinating Listen"

    This was a fascinating book, telling the story of the first real computers constructed after WW2 and the intruiging personalities involved

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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