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The Computer from Pascal to Von Neumann

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In 1942, Lt. Herman H. Goldstine, a former mathematics professor, was stationed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he assisted in the creation of the ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. The ENIAC was operational in 1945, but plans for a new computer were already underway. The principal source of idea In 1942, Lt. Herman H. Goldstine, a former mathematics professor, was stationed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he assisted in the creation of the ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. The ENIAC was operational in 1945, but plans for a new computer were already underway. The principal source of ideas for the new computer was John von Neumann, who became Goldstine's chief collaborator. Together they developed EDVAC, successor to ENIAC. After World War II, at the Institute for Advanced Study, they built what was to become the prototype of the present-day computer. Herman Goldstine writes as both historian and scientist in this first examination of the development of computing machinery, from the seventeenth century through the early 1950s. His personal involvement lends a special authenticity to his narrative, as he sprinkles anecdotes and stories liberally through his text.


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In 1942, Lt. Herman H. Goldstine, a former mathematics professor, was stationed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he assisted in the creation of the ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. The ENIAC was operational in 1945, but plans for a new computer were already underway. The principal source of idea In 1942, Lt. Herman H. Goldstine, a former mathematics professor, was stationed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he assisted in the creation of the ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. The ENIAC was operational in 1945, but plans for a new computer were already underway. The principal source of ideas for the new computer was John von Neumann, who became Goldstine's chief collaborator. Together they developed EDVAC, successor to ENIAC. After World War II, at the Institute for Advanced Study, they built what was to become the prototype of the present-day computer. Herman Goldstine writes as both historian and scientist in this first examination of the development of computing machinery, from the seventeenth century through the early 1950s. His personal involvement lends a special authenticity to his narrative, as he sprinkles anecdotes and stories liberally through his text.

30 review for The Computer from Pascal to Von Neumann

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    While Goldstine's historical record is clearly complete and he carefully describes the timeline of the first digital computers, his account spends too much time obsesively assuring each participant gets his due name drop rather than giving me discriptions of the incredible technical innovations I'm most interested in learning about. While Goldstine's historical record is clearly complete and he carefully describes the timeline of the first digital computers, his account spends too much time obsesively assuring each participant gets his due name drop rather than giving me discriptions of the incredible technical innovations I'm most interested in learning about.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    Computing today is essential to almost every process in 21st-century society. It enables science, business, entertainment, and so much more. But computing needs continue to rise in this field's version of Jevons Paradox, and today computing applications also raise important ethical and legal questions. Thus, the (ongoing) history of computing is important for almost everyone living today. Herman H. Goldstine's The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann is a history of computing from Schickard and P Computing today is essential to almost every process in 21st-century society. It enables science, business, entertainment, and so much more. But computing needs continue to rise in this field's version of Jevons Paradox, and today computing applications also raise important ethical and legal questions. Thus, the (ongoing) history of computing is important for almost everyone living today. Herman H. Goldstine's The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann is a history of computing from Schickard and Pascal, through Leibniz and Charles Babbage, leading to the formulation and construction of the basis for today's computers -- the von Neumann architecture for electronic, digital, general-purpose computers. Goldstine proposes a technical and mathematical perspective, and takes full benefit of his collaboration with von Neumann (and Burks, and Eckert and Mauchly) for this grand discovery of computer science. The material is aimed at a general audience, although a reasonable understanding of basic math is needed to understand some of the concepts. Overall, an excellent history, which shines in many aspects: a first-hand account of the creation of the ENIAC computer and the discovery of the von Neumann architecture, a fine interpretation of the meaning of many important inventions and discoveries leading to it, and an excellent summary of the mathematical techniques and applications motivating computers. On the negative side, this history was completed in the early 1970s, when many facts about the early computers where not clear and when much of the material on wartime computers was still classified; the author acknowledges this (p.148). As we know now, not everything in this history is accurate. Also read: Martin Campbell-Kelly et al.'s Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Jeffrey R. Yost's Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry. Content: The book is structured in three main parts: (I) the historical development of computing, with a few references until 1600 and much more detail after 1800; (II) the ENIAC computer, the von Neumann architecture and its relationship to the EDVAC (and EDSAC) computers; and (III) the von Neumann and successor machines originating at the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS; host, next to John von Neumann, to great intellectuals such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, and Hermann Weyl). There are also several good photos of early computing devices through the ENIAC and IAS machines. What I liked: 1. The description of the ENIAC computer. This part is developed with fine mathematical and technical insight. I liked in particular how the elegant mathematical concepts meet the reality of performance and reliability needs. Ultimately, ENIAC was to become a technology monster, combining over 17,000 electronic (vacuum) tubes of 16 different types, with restrictive operating conditions lest they should fail, combined with tens of thousands of other electric devices, all put together to implement (one of?) the first parallel computer in the world. It turns out the ENIAC made computer systems designers of the performance-programmability trade-off, and led to the creation of the stored program concept credited by Goldstine primarily to von Neumann. Many other concepts important today---reliability and energy-efficiency, ease of use and portability, various trade-offs, applications, systems and operations research, etc.---appear here. 2. The many technical and personal vignettes. For the reader interested in the technology or people leading to the great discovery of the modern digital computer, there is much to like here. If you want to meet J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, alongside tens of names you may or may not already know, this is the right place. Von Neumann appears in more humane anecdotes. Golstine creates small descriptions of the lives of the main inventors, mathematicians, and scientists involved in these processes. Goldstine also takes his time to explain what he sees as the most important inventions and discoveries. I liked very much how this is not a teleological history; how great inventions and discoveries appear and then are forgotten, and his analysis as to why this happened. 3. The social construction of technology. Although the term appeared later, Goldstine understands very well, and explains it to the interested reader, how technology appears through social construction. Next to the people, numerous (US) government agencies, businesses, and academic institutions appear and play an essential role; indeed, Goldstine acknowledges that the computer has greatly benefited from great interest and enormous direct investment from the US Gov't. (We also get to learn about how the UK Gov't. managed to squander a conceptual and technological advancement of nearly 100 years, by being too incompetent to properly support Charles Babbage's work. Comrie has more on the topic.) The BRL Aberdeen Proving Grounds and the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania feature prominently. The IAS is described in great detail, from formation to upcoming computer applications. 4. The reading list. Goldstine is meticulous in his statements and analysis, so the reader gets a wealth of references that appear infrequently today. Vannevar Bush's two seminal papers on the different versions of the Differential Analyzer, Comrie's 1946 article Babbage's Dream Come True, Martin H. Weik's Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems, links to JOHNNIAC and ILLIAC programmes, are just some of the links that enthuse. What I did not like: 1. Goldstine does not understand the importance of parallelism. In Chapter 8, we learn how the design of ENIAC's successor the EDVAC includes a critical decision: "to abandon the highly parallel operation of the ENIAC" (p.205). Because parallelism (and its more complex form, distribution) is the most important mode of computer operation in the 21st century (post-Moore's Law), I would have liked for Goldstine to cover more this decision and analyze deeper its implications. (We actually learn more in this book about delay lines and their importance for in-memory computation, than about parallelism. But it is easy to dismiss earlier histories with hindsight...) 2. This is a very personal history, biased by the author's network and country. Von Neumann is godly. We don't learn much beyond the US. Colossus is mentioned in passing. Turing is irrelevant and lacks understanding of technological limitations. Atanasoff is dismissed as naive and unreliable. German inventors, in particular Zuse, are irrelevant. More importantly, Eckert and Mauchly are intellectually reduced, good in building the ENIAC, but without conceptual depth and having very little to claim about the creation of the modern general-purpose computer and the von Neumann (and Burks, and Golstine(!)) architecture. 3. The book shows its age. Part III focuses on many applications made possible by the von Neumann architecture, and by the machine developed by von Neumann and his team at IAS. Computing has evolved so rapidly and with so great diversity in the past five decades, that this part appears much like a curiosity and antiques fair. TL;DR: Herman H. Goldstine's The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann is a must-read history of the modern computer. It is informative, presents an unique point of view, and has aged relatively well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Rollins

    Goldstine worked with Eckert and Mauchly on the ENIAC, with them and Von Neumann on the EDVAC, and the joined VN at the IAS, so there’s a clear slant, and a bit of score settling, to that section of the history, but it’s also a plus in its hands on participant point of view. The first third of the book is actually about the Victorian and Belle Époque precursors to modern computers, (Pascal, Babbage, etc) which was surprisingly entertaining. Some sections get bogged down in some pretty heavy math Goldstine worked with Eckert and Mauchly on the ENIAC, with them and Von Neumann on the EDVAC, and the joined VN at the IAS, so there’s a clear slant, and a bit of score settling, to that section of the history, but it’s also a plus in its hands on participant point of view. The first third of the book is actually about the Victorian and Belle Époque precursors to modern computers, (Pascal, Babbage, etc) which was surprisingly entertaining. Some sections get bogged down in some pretty heavy math/computational theory, but you can lightly skim those parts without missing any of the history...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hemanth Kumar

    Mr hermann, a ibm fellow gives an exhaustive account about the creation and development of computer as we see now. Though the reader could clearly see bias towards IBM during the course of development, it also lays emphasis on importance of research and innovation for survival of a company. Though the account contains lot of names, but I feel everyone of them did more than ordinary to be mentioned and easy to forget them or overlook them.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Senthil Kumaran

    The Computer From Pascal to Von Neumann is a computer history book by Herman H. Goldstine which surveys the history from the laws of thought from earliest philosophers like Pascal, Mathematicians like George Bool, to implementors like Von Neumann. The author takes how each like was built on top of others, and almost everyone involved had a shared objective for computers. These inventors wanted to "free" mankind from the mundane tasks. And these inventors lived in different eras like Leibniz lived The Computer From Pascal to Von Neumann is a computer history book by Herman H. Goldstine which surveys the history from the laws of thought from earliest philosophers like Pascal, Mathematicians like George Bool, to implementors like Von Neumann. The author takes how each like was built on top of others, and almost everyone involved had a shared objective for computers. These inventors wanted to "free" mankind from the mundane tasks. And these inventors lived in different eras like Leibniz lived in 1600s, Charles Babbage in 1800s and Dijskstra (1930-2002). When introducing Charles Babbage, author directly goes the motivation that derived the inventor. The theme of Leibniz— to free men from slavery by the automation of dull but simple - tasks was next taken up by one of the most unusual figures in modern intellectual history, Charles Babbage And here is how Dijskstra explains how and why Computers will exceed human reasoning. In the long run I expect computing science to transcend its parent disciplines, mathematics and logic, by effectively realizing a significant part of Leibniz’s Dream of providing symbolic calculation as an alternative to human reasoning. - Dijskstra (Please note the difference between "mimicking" and "providing an alternative to": alternatives are allowed to be better.) Author also associated United States Military and Government to various advancements in Computers. The final chapters gave references to when other parts of the world got their first computer. I noted that India's first computers were in 1960s with Tata institute of Fundamental research. I have some interesting photos from this book in my blog: http://xtoinfinity.com/posts/2021/01/...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Angelo

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Uma história da criação dos computadores eletrônicos e da própria era digital em que vivemos contada em primeira mão, por Herman Goldstine, que colaborou com John Von Neumann na criação dos primeiros computadores eletrônicos que iniciaram o processo que molda o mundo em que vivemos. A reparar, somente o pouco destaque dado a Alan Turing, contemporâneo do autor e peça fundamental no desenvolvimento de conceitos hoje banais, como a existência de sistemas operacionais e a noção de computador de múl Uma história da criação dos computadores eletrônicos e da própria era digital em que vivemos contada em primeira mão, por Herman Goldstine, que colaborou com John Von Neumann na criação dos primeiros computadores eletrônicos que iniciaram o processo que molda o mundo em que vivemos. A reparar, somente o pouco destaque dado a Alan Turing, contemporâneo do autor e peça fundamental no desenvolvimento de conceitos hoje banais, como a existência de sistemas operacionais e a noção de computador de múltiplos propósitos, com uma diferenciação entre hardware e software

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amrita

    It's awesome ... for anyone interested in history of Computers ... It's awesome ... for anyone interested in history of Computers ...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Zdravko

    great stories about the birth of the digital computer. it sometimes got too technical for me to follow, but overall it was pretty interesting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Douglas

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steve Gwizdala

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jon Stefenson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vincentius Dhawu

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

  14. 5 out of 5

    Edward Nunez

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dave Cheney

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  17. 4 out of 5

    Louis Maddox

  18. 4 out of 5

    Will

  19. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Niro

  21. 4 out of 5

    Justin Salisbury

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Beaulieu

  23. 4 out of 5

    V

  24. 5 out of 5

    Iñigo

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jovany Agathe

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  27. 5 out of 5

    Martin Carranza Torres

  28. 5 out of 5

    gargamelscat

  29. 5 out of 5

    Riccardo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Greg

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