John von Neumann
December 28, 2003 10:14 AM   Subscribe

John von Neumann, 1903-1957. Today may have been the 100 year anniversary of the birth of John von Neumann (some think he may have been born on December 3rd). Along with Alan Turing and others, Von Neumann is one of the contenders for the title "Inventor of the modern computer." Whatever the precise date, it seems worth celebrating with some von Neumannania: 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111, 1000, 1001.
posted by carter (10 comments total)
Yeah but imagine a world based on mechanical computing...."steam punk" is ok but a real world based on it would be an even worse environmental mess!
posted by hoopyfrood at 12:57 PM on December 28, 2003

1010 (on my favorite math history site, by the way.)
posted by CrunchyFrog at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2003

Guess which one's my favorite.
posted by hama7 at 2:52 PM on December 28, 2003

From various sources above:

At the age of six, he was able to exchange jokes with his father in classical Greek.

"Johnny was the only student I was ever afraid of. If in the course of a lecture I stated an unsolved problem, the chances were he'd come to me as soon as the lecture was over, with the complete solution in a few scribbles on a slip of paper."

Johnny, as it seems everyone called him, was one of those people who are so bright it's hard to believe they were human. There's an old joke about the Fermi Paradox, a problem which occured to Enrico Fermi one day at Los Alamos: where are They? If there are intelligent aliens out there in the universe, why aren't they here yet? a species only that much older than us would have technology which would blow our minds, pretty close to limits set by physical laws. Leo Szilard is supposed to have answered Fermi: ``Maybe they're already here, and you just call them Hungarians."

Quantum mechanics was very fortunate indeed to attract, in the very first years after its discovery in 1925, the interest of a mathematical genius of von Neumann's stature. As a result, the mathematical framework of the theory was developed and the formal aspects of its entirely novel rules of interpretation were analysed by one single man in two years (1927-1929).

"If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is." - von Neumann

When von Neumann realised he was incurably ill, his logic forced him to realise that he would cease to exist, and hence cease to have thoughts ... It was heartbreaking to watch the frustration of his mind, when all hope was gone, in its struggle with the fate which appeared to him unavoidable but unacceptable.
posted by vacapinta at 3:15 PM on December 28, 2003

Guess which one's my favorite.
posted by hama7 at 2:52 PM PST on December 28

posted by weston at 4:30 PM on December 28, 2003

There are 10 kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2003

Von Neuman got much more credit for devising the computer architecture named after him than he deserved. Pres Eckert and John Mauchly, the creators of Eniac, deserve more credit than they have received for the same architecture. Although, some of their work was inspired from the Atanasoff Berry Computer. More ABC here.
posted by ae4rv at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2003

Most interesting carter, thanks.

More :- von Neumann and programming languages, and von Neumann architecture. With some exceptions (e.g. Prolog), most computer programming languages have been 'von Neumann' languages...
posted by plep at 11:36 PM on December 28, 2003

How in the hell don't we know his birthday?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:41 AM on December 29, 2003

It's not that we don't know it, it's just undecideable.
posted by weston at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2003

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