The First Five Kilobytes are the Hardest
THE FIRST FIVE KILOBYTES ARE THE HARDEST
The Physical Realization of an Electronic Computing Instrument
Alan Turing’s one-dimensional model of universal computation of 1936 led directly to John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation of 1946. The Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study jump-started the digital revolution by bringing engineers into the den of the mathematicians, rather than by bringing mathematicians into a den of engineers. The resulting 32 x 32 x 40-bit electrostatic memory, accessible at the speed of light rather than the speed of sound, spawned the ever-expanding address matrix in which we are now immersed.
GEORGE DYSON is a historian of technology whose books have ranged across interests including the development (and redevelopment) of the Aleut kayak (Baidarka, 1986), the evolution of artificial intelligence (Darwin Among the Machines, 1997), and a path not taken into space (Project Orion, 2002). His recent Turing’s Cathedral (2012) illuminates the transition from numbers that mean things to numbers that do things in the aftermath of World War II.
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