A Look at the History of the Computer

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What would life be like without a computer? It’s tough to envision but it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have them. Now many of us carry multiple computers, i.e. laptops, e-readers, and smartphones.

How did computers turn into such a key appliance in such a short amount of time? This is the question that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book,Turing’s Cathedral, a sort of personal history of the computer.

Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to several of the world’s most impressive scientific minds while the first digital computer was being developed.

If you read Turing’s Cathedral it may surprise you at just how much chance was involved in the development of the machines that let to computers. The book not only highlights the creation of the computer but also the personalities involved at the Princeton Institute. They weren’t always on the same page but were able to produce the first digital computer regardless.

Genius or not, people are still people, and when working closely on the same project there are sure to be rivalries and disagreements that occur. Turing’s Cathedral lays these matters open, showing the humanity of the scientist that created the first computer.It was not just the personal disputes that needed to be put aside to make this project successful; there were also moral issues involved. The work that went into the development of the computer walked hand in hand with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You might have the idea that a history book about computers will not only be dry but probably full of technical terms. This is not the case with Turing’s Cathedral; nearly everybody who use computers will find this book fascinating. And that is a lot of people these days.