Listening to John Von Neumann

While at Carnegie Mellon in 92-93 I became very interested in the history of computing. Jim Tomayko,

While at Carnegie Mellon in 92-93 I became very interested in the history of computing. Jim Tomayko, my advisor and good friend, was the editor of the IEEE Annals on the History of Computing, and recommended me Herman Goldstine’s book “The Computer, from Pascal to Von Neumann”. Goldstine, one of the key persons on the ENIAC Project together with Mauchly and Eckert, met by chance John Von Neumann on a train station in 1944 and told him about this incredibly fast calculating machine that he was working on. The rest of the story is well known; Von Neumann became extremely interested in the project and added key contributions to the development of digital computers that last until today.

Von Neumann is also known for his amazing intelligence. In his book, Goldstine dedicates a few pages to describe some of the things his incredible brain could do, including a total recall of books he had read and doing sophisticated calculations in his head. If you have a chance to read this book, don’t miss it.

There is only one piece of video recording of John Von Neumann that finally someone uploaded to You Tube. In this quick interview, while looking at a table full of equipment, a boy asks him how the USA are educating people to be able to meet the challenges presented by these new technologies. He responds that they need to raise the level of education in science in secondary schools and universities, also improving the training in sciences of school teachers.

About 60 years after that, many Countries are having the same discussions. Over the last few years, Argentina has made a lot of progress in rebuilding its scientific system and infrastructure and also promoting improvements in science education. But there’s a lot more work to do. The software industry needs this badly, as competition is ever increasing and margins are getting smaller, and therefore we need to add more value to our products and services. We always knew that the initial conditions that favored the growth of our industry would not last forever, as they were the result of a huge economic and social crisis. Now is the time to test, as Carlos Pallotti likes to say, whether in those years we developed muscle or fat.

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