The technology book of 2012 may have just been published. The book is by George Dyson, it’s called Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe and its a sparkling history of the small team of scientists at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) who developed both the personal computer and the hydrogen bomb. Most of all, this is a book about John (Johnny) Von Neumann, the brilliant Hungarian mathematician who not only was the principal architect of our digital universe but also assembled the scientific team that built the foundations of the computer and the hydrogen bomb.
“They made a deal with the devil,” Dyson explained to me when he came into our San Francisco studio to talk about Turing’s Cathedral. In getting the government to fund the development of the personal computer, Dyson says, Von Neumann was saying: “we will give you this weapon and in exchange we will get the machine.” And therein, Dyson says, lies the origins of our digital universe – a project (the ultimate lean start-up?), he says, that was accomplished by a team of just 12 scientists for under $1 million.
George Dyson is an historian of technology and an author. His books include Baidarka the Kayak 1986, Darwin Among the Machines 1997, Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 2002 and Turing’s Cathedral to be published. He lectures extensively on the evolution of technology and is a contributor to the Edge Foundation. He is the son of the theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson and the brother of Esther Dyson.