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John von Neumann's Contributions to Computing and Computer Science1 Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129613D
Original Publication Date: 1989-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 8 page(s) / 39K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

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[Footnote] 1 This paper contains material adapted from the author's essay, ";The Mathematical Reception of the Modern Computer: John von Neumann and the Institute for Advanced Study Computer,"; in Studzes in the History of Mathematics, E. R. Phillips (ed.), pp. 166- 194. Washington, D.C., The Mathematical Association of America, 1987. The author gratefully acknowledges the MAA's permission to adapt their material. This research was supported in part by National Science Foundation grant SES-8609543.

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

John von Neumann's Contributions to Computing and Computer Science1



Aspray emphasizes von Neumann's critical role in the formation of modern computing and celebrates von Neumann as the scientific legitimizer of computing. He provides a survey of von Neumann's many important contributions to computer architecture, hardware, design and construction, programming, numerical analysis, scientific computation, and the theory of computing. Aspray's essay stresses especially the importance of von Neumann's work to promote the development of logical design.

Categories and Subject Descriptors. K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- hardware, people, software, systems, theory. B.6 [Hardware]: Logic design -- general; D.2.2 [Software]: General -- tools and techniques.

John von Neumann's contributions to computing came in the later years of his career, well after he had become established as one of the world's leading mathematicians. From 1940, when he joined Aberdeen Proving Grounds as a scientific consultant, his attention was drawn increasingly to scientific problems whose resolution required extensive computation. A critical point was reached in 1943, while working on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos. This work required fundamentally new kinds of computing equipment, and led him in 1944 to associate with the computer projects at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1945 to form his own project at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). His contributions to computing were abruptly curtailed in 1957 by an early death due to cancer.

When von Neumann first visited the University of Pennsylvania in 1944, he found that a programmable electronic calculator (ENIAC) was completely designed but not yet constructed, and that work on a stored program computer (EDVAC) was just beginning. For the next year and a half, he served as a consultant to the project. In March and April of 1945 he consulted extensively with the university staff about the EDVAC hardware design and the organization of its memory and arithmetic equipment. After these meetings he independently advanced the machine's logical design, developed a machine level programming language, and wrote up these findings in a report known as First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC (1945).

This report contained the first description of the logical design of a computer in which the program could be stored and modified electronically. The report described the general organization of the computer into a high-speed memory, a central arithmetic unit, an outside recording medium, an input organ, and a central control unit, and explained how these could interact as a system. The report also described the fundamental processing operations of the program language: how arithmetic operations, internal transfers...