Déjà vu

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

“Déjà vu”

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

By George Dyson 

 Narrated by Arthur Morey

Reading the “New York Times”, Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 the front page of “Business Day” shows an article about Google called “Search and Replace”. In the same edition, there is an article by Shane Harris on the editorial page, “Giving In to the Surveillance State”.  Both articles infer a dystopian future envisioned by Johnny Von Neumann and Alan Turing, the primary geniuses of the computer generation’s beginnings in the middle of the 20th century.  “Turing’s Cathedral”, a history of computer science in the 1940s, is strikingly like the 2012 NYT’s articles–a “déjà vu” moment.

ALAN TURING (1912-1954)

Near the end of Dyson’s book, a chapter is written about the potential of a computer that can dream, based on an accumulation of all the world’s known publications, communications, and locations, to answer any question about the world that is known by the collective mind of man.  Nils Aall Barricelli envisions world domination by artificial intelligence.  The entry to that world is “Turing’s Cathedral”, a mansion of the entire world’s information that is being built to be occupied by a wired or wireless connection to human brains.


Google ambitiously pursues the right to digitize all written publications and map all locations in the world.  Technology pushes to connect information to human consciousness with eye-glasses that access the world-wide-web.  How far is it to directly wire Google’s data base to the human brain?  What are the consequences of human access to the entire world’s information at the speed of light?  Does man become dumber or smarter?  Did calculators reduce or increase human understanding and use of math?  Is mankind or machine in control of decision-making?

Barricelli suggests that artificial life is a foreseeable creation with continuing advances in computer technology.  The fundamental question is who will inherit the future of the world and our universe?  Will man or machine be the future that creates life?  Are we only genetic apes of the next generation?

“Turing’s Cathedral” seems to be more than a church of knowledge and mankind seems to be less than the soul of a machine.

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