Von Neumann's Universe: Coding (and Engineering) at the IAS, 1945-1956


George Dyson (Esther's brother) is speaking about Von Neumann's Universe: Coding (and Engineering) at the IAS, 1945-1956. George is a resident scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and go through the archives. His father, Freeman Dyson is an emeritus professor of IAS and a renowned scientist. He's showing documents, pictures and some of the original drawings and schematics. The documents are full of names that are instantly recognizable, Godel, Pauli, Einstein.

EDVAC was the name of the computer designed and built there. The budget for designing the machine was $50,000. George has schematics for and and or gates, adders, and other devices that are still recognizable. Many components and design details that we'd recognize as being part of today's computer designs:

  • central clock
  • modular design
  • "words" representing "order codes" handled in memory just like numbers

The talk is full of interesting and humorous quotes from the documents. For example, James Lighthill, an IAS official said in 1954:

It is time von Neumann revolutionized some other field of study. He has studied automatic computation long enough.

The talk is very appropriate in a conference on OSS because of the way that it was built. As what was largely a large scale university research project, the information was freely disseminated and the documents show NCR, IBM, and other universities checking them out and receiving distributions.