Turing Media Feast, Part II: George Dyson + the Digital Universe

“A Great science fiction detective story”
Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine

Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

Days to Centenary: 84

The TV Ontario show Big Ideas is one of the best products of public television in Canada, as I’ve written on a related blog.

Big Ideas is recorded in a lecture format and its speakers come from many disciplines, but it frequently features scientists and popular science writers like Steven PinkerCory DoctorowFreeman Dyson, and Clay Shirky.

Episodes of Big Ideas are available as podcasts in either video or audio format, or can be watched online.

The episode I want to foucs on was released just a few days ago on March 24, 2012, and features George Dyson, not the composer, but the historian of science and author of Turing’s Cathedral.

(Dyson is also a boatbuilder by profession and has quite a pedigree, since he is the son of multi-disciplinary scientist Freeman Dyson and the brother of entrepreneur and philanthropist Esther Dyson.)

George Dyson

George Dyson

Dyson’s book tells the story of how the atom bomb and the computer were — more or less — invented by the same group of young people, including Alan Turing and John von Neumann.

It’s a story he’s uniquely positioned to tell for two reasons.  First, his father was one of those young people.  Second, he has scoured through archival materials, many never accessed before (quite possibly in part on the strength of his family name).

It is also not specifically a story about Turing, but it includes Turing and sets his work and life in a wider context while telling an absolutely absorbing tale. Dyson’s style is discursive and wide-ranging, including odd perspectives and unexpected observations, and always keeps your attention.

But why should I describe him any further when you can meet him yourself? Dyson’s Big Ideas lecture on The Origins of the Digital Universe is embedded below.

That video is followed by another, a recent interview with him at the Computer History Museum about Turing’s Cathedral.

Don’t miss the first part of this series, featuring Radiolab’s show on Turing, and be sure to return for the final installment of this series tomorrow!

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