The Computer and the Brain John von Neumann, Ray Kurzweil

Series:
The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series
Format:
Paperback
Publication date:
28 Aug 2012
ISBN:
9780300181111
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
136 pages: 197 x 127 x 9mm

First published in 1958, John von Neumann's classic work The Computer and the Brain explored the analogies between computing machines and the living human brain. Von Neumann showed that the brain operates both digitally and analogically, but also has its own unique statistical language. And more than fifty years after its inception the "von Neumann architecture" - an organizational framework for computer design - still lies at the heart of today's machines.

In his foreword to this new edition, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist famous for his own musings on the relationship between technology and consciousness, places von Neumann's work in a historical context and shows how it remains relevant today.

At the time of his death in February 1957, John von Neumann, renowned for his theory of games and his work at the Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study, was serving as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, author, and futurist who has written six books including The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

"This book is the earliest serious examination of the human brain from the perspective of a mathematician and computer pioneer. Prior to von Neumann, the fields of computer science and neuroscience were two islands with no bridge between them."—Ray Kurzweil, from the foreword


"This book contains exactly the line of reasoning that inspired the architecture underlying Watson, the machine that beat the best human champions at Jeopardy!. A must read for any new computer scientist and reread for all of us who enjoy the stunning power of thoughtful observation and objective reason."—David Ferrucci, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center


"This innocent-looking little book lies at the eye of a hurricane. It represents a locus of clarity and calm at the center of a vast vortex of powerful arguments and competing research programs."—Paul and Patricia Churchland, on the earlier edition


"Perhaps the most powerful, lucid and penetrating mind in the history of computer science, von Neumann's observations about the language of the brain resonate with remarkable insight. Decades ahead of his time, he launches a thread of reasoning based on his unmatched understanding of computing that suggests the human nervous system is best understood, not as a digital machine but has a statistical one. . . . 'The nervous system is a computing machine which manages to do its exceedingly complicated work on a rather low level of precision....what matters are not the precise positions of definite markers, digits, but the statistical characteristics of their occurrences, i.e., frequencies. . . .' It is exactly this line of reasoning that inspired the essential architecture underlying Watson, the machine that beat the best human champions at Jeopardy! There is no precise mathematics to human language and yet it is the foundation for expressing human thought. Von Neumann reasons his way from analog machines to digital machines to delivering unparalleled insight into the computational paradigm underlying the human brain. A must read for any new computer scientist and reread for all of us who enjoy the stunning power of thoughtful observation and objective reason."—David Ferrucci, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center


"This work from the earliest days of computing reminds us of von Neumann’s deep thinking and clarity of expression."—Dag Spicer, Senior Curator, Computer History Museum