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Brief Bio: John von Neumann

July 08, 2014 mgroves 0 Comments
Tags: Brief Bio architecture

Welcome to the latest installment of the Brief Bio series, where I'm writing up very informal biographies about major figures in the history of computers. Please take a look at the Brief Bio archive, and feel free to leave corrections and omissions in the comments.

John von Neumann

Since Ada Lovelace's death, there's a pretty big lull in notable computer-related activity. World War II is the main catalyst for significant research and discovery, so that's why I'm skipping ahead to figures involved in that period. If you think there's someone worth mentioning that I've skipped over, please do so in the comments.

But now, I'm skipping ahead about a half of a century to 1903, which is when John von Neumann was born. He was born in Budapest, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to wealthy parents. His father was a banker, and John Von Neumann's precociousness, especially in mathematics can be at least partially attributed this to his father's profession. Von Neumann tore through the educational system, and received a Ph.D. in mathematics when he was 22 years old.

Like Pascal, Leibniz, and Babbage, Von Neumann contributed to a wide variety of knowledge areas outside computing. Some of the high points of Von Neumann's work and contributions include:

He also worked on the Manhattan Project, and thus helped to end World War II in the Pacific. He was present for the very first atomic bomb test. After the war, he went on to work on hydrogen bombs and ICBMs. He applied game theory to nuclear war, and is credited with the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction.

His work on the hyrdogen bomb is where Von Neumman enteres the picture as a founding father of computing. He introduced the stored-program concept, which would come to be known as the Von Neumann architecture.

Von Neumann became Commissioner of the United States Atomic Energy Program. Here's a video of Von Neumann, while in that role, advocating for more training and education in computing.

In 1955, Von Neumann was diagnosed with some form of cancer, possibly related to his exposure to radiation at the first nuclear test. Von Neumann died in 1957, and is buried in Princeton Cemetary (New Jersey).

I encourage you to read more about him in John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius who Pionered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More (which looks to be entirely accessible on Google Books).


Matthew D. Groves

About the Author

Matthew D. Groves lives in Central Ohio. He works remotely, loves to code, and is a Microsoft MVP.

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