Sunday, May 6, 2012

Show for May 6, 2012. George Dyson: The Dawn of the Digital Universe

Historian George Dyson tells the story of the Electronic Computer Project. Led by the brilliant polymath John Von Neumann in the 1940’s and 50’s, the project laid the groundwork for much of modern computing. In doing so, Dyson says, it birthed a new, digital ecosystem, a world of self-reproducing, ever-evolving numbers that may be said to have a life of their own.

We talked about that and about Dyson’s own very personal connection to the story. He’s the son of famed physicist Freeman Dyson and grew up at the Institute for Advanced Study, where Von Neumann and crew did their pioneering work. He’s also an earth-loving outdoorsman, and has a foot in both the natural and technological worlds. 

John Von Neumann and the “MANIAC” computer at the Institute for Advanced Study. The cylinders at bottom house cathode ray tubes used as memory devices. Most present-day computers are descendants of this ancestral machine, as Dyson explains in his new book Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe.

Click the Play arrow above to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As”; If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As”).