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John von Neumann Reconsidered

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129611D
Original Publication Date: 1989-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 4 page(s) / 22K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JEAN R. BRINK: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

This essay offers a general assessment of von Neumann's life and his contributions to computer science. Responding to biased attacks on von Neumann's political stance, this essay attempts to rectify misrepresentations of von Neumann's position on national defense and scientific research. Categories and Subject Descriptor. K.2 [Computing Milleux]: History of Computing -- people. K.4 [Computing Milleux]: Computers and Society -- general. The oldest of three boys, John von Neumann was born in Budapest on December 28, 1903. In the United States he came to be known universally as Johnny, perhaps because he was already known by the Hungarian Jancsi. Von Neumann belonged to the group of Hungarian mathematicians and physicists including Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, and Denis Gabor, who have substantially contributed to twentieth-century science.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1989 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

John von Neumann Reconsidered

JEAN R. BRINK

This essay offers a general assessment of von Neumann's life and his contributions to computer science. Responding to biased attacks on von Neumann's political stance, this essay attempts to rectify misrepresentations of von Neumann's position on national defense and scientific research.

Categories and Subject Descriptor. K.2 [Computing Milleux]: History of Computing -- people. K.4 [Computing Milleux]: Computers and Society -- general.

The oldest of three boys, John von Neumann was born in Budapest on December 28, 1903. In the United States he came to be known universally as Johnny, perhaps because he was already known by the Hungarian Jancsi. Von Neumann belonged to the group of Hungarian mathematicians and physicists including Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, and Denis Gabor, who have substantially contributed to twentieth-century science.

Von Neumann came from an affluent Jewish Hungarian family. His father Max von Neumann, a successful lawyer, was elevated to the nobility. The Hungarian honorific "Margittai" was later germanized to "von." The family was bilingual in Hungarian and German. When von Neumann entered the Lutheran gymnasium at 10, where Wigner was already enrolled, he came into contact with Laszlo Racz, a teacher who perceived his mathematical talents and arranged with his father for special tutoring. Von Neumann studied in both Hungary and Germany. To visit Gottingen, an important center for European science, as von Neumann did, was to meet David Hilbert, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Erwin Schrodinger. Other visitors included Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Linus Pauling, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Norbert Wiener.

Von Neumann was one of the rare men of extraordinary scientific genius who was as engaging personally as he was brilliant mentally. Colleagues relate anecdotes concerning his foibles, but all with a touch of nostalgia because his charm, as well as his intelligence, endeared him to those who knew him best. Von Neumann was of medium- size, slender as a young man, heavier as he grew older. His colleagues teased him about dressing like a banker. Perhaps because he was the son of a banker, he habitually wore three-piece suits with a neatly buttoned coat and a handkerchief in his pocket. Cheerful and gregarious, he was a great raconteur. According to his friends, he was not mechanical enough to change a tire on his car.

Because of his powers of concentration, von Neumann could appear absentminded. He would sometimes start out on a trip and then have to call home to find out with whom he had an appointment and where it was to be. He loved off-color limericks and repeated them at parties. Especially fond of children, he enjoyed their toys so much that friends would give him joke gifts ...