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Von Neumann and HCI

Does anyone in here konw the relevance of Von Neumann to the field of HCI?

Is his main contribution to computer science really the 'Von Neumann' Architecture?

He is a big part of a computer science high school syllabus, and yet I have never heard of him (I did a comp sci degree, you would think I would have heard of him during that if he is relevant to high schoolers?)

I can and am googling (please don't give me a google link). Just curious as to real thoughts on the guy and the things that may be considered 'common knowledge' about him.

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

When you need good information of this sort, don't google, wiki it ;-) . So I'll just post the link here, because it's not google:

"Von Neumann devised the von Neumann architecture used in most non-parallel-processing computers. Virtually every commercially available home computer, microcomputer and supercomputer is a von Neumann machine. He created the field of cellular automata without computers, constructing the first examples of self-replicating automata with pencil and graph paper. The term von Neumann machine also refers to self-replicating machines. Von Neumann proved that the most effective way large-scale mining operations such as mining an entire moon or asteroid belt can be accomplished is through the use of self-replicating machines, to take advantage of the exponential growth of such mechanisms.

In addition to his work on architecture, he is credited with at least one contribution the study of algorithms. Donald Knuth cites von Neumann as the inventor, in 1945, of the well known MergeSort algorithm, in which the first and second halves of an array are each sorted recursively and then merged together."

Now you know who you curse when you find yourself learning one algorithm for a few months...

Vladimir Gritsenko
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

I knew there was an impressive statement about him in "Computer Architecture" (Hennessy / Patterson), so I looked it up.

First, regarding the "von Neumann machine":  von Neumann worked on the ENIAC project with its creators J. Prester Eckert and John Mauchly.  In 1944, he wrote a memo crystallizing the ideas the three had discussed.  Herman Goldstine distributed the memo with only von Neumann's name on it.  So von Neumann was inaccurately given full credit for the contents.  I just wanted to clear that up, because I hate it when people aren't given credit when it is due.

Later, Goldstine joined up with von Neumann and Arthur Burks.  Regarding a paper they published in 1946, the book states: "Reading it today, you would never guess this landmark paper was written more than 50 years ago, as most of the architectural concepts seen in modern computers are discussed there."

I'm forever in awe of people with that kind of foresight.

Yet another anon
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

>In 1944, he wrote a memo crystallizing the ideas the three had discussed.  Herman Goldstine distributed the memo with only von Neumann's name on it.

Now that is interesting. I would love to find a source that confirms it.

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Just google for von Neumann Eckert Mauchly. You'll find a lot of sources that confirm it.

Yet another anon
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Not to cast aspersions, but what did your "Computer Science" background consist of?

I'm intrigued because I find it unfathomable that Von Neumann went unmentioned.  This may be due to nationalistic influences (every country seems to dispute the primacy of certain technological breakthroughs) or something else.  But I've also become alarmed at what some institutions call "Computer Science."

I've seen this applied to everything from business data processing curricula to MCSE-oriented programs of late.

Then again, maybe you just forgot about old John?

Jon Dinlea
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

>Then again, maybe you just forgot about old John?

This is possible.
The degree just didn't focus much on the "who's who" of history. I think we touched on babbage and ada in an early course (but then again that might just been some of my own reading), if it was in a course I imagine it would have been part of an introduction, rather then actually required knowledge.

Yes, it is possible that he was mentioned yet I forgot him, but if that is the case, then he probably wasn't mentioned much. I would have thought with the amount of attention that the Queensland grade 11/12 syllabus give him that, yes, he would have played a much larger role in my CS degree.

It is a shame, I find history interesting, I know it is something I will disperse through my lesson plans.

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, September 1, 2004


I think nationalism does play a strong part.  Here in the UK Turing's seems more prominent, and Charles Babbage of course.

Although I had heard of him, I really didn't encounter Von Neumann until I studied Econmics and read some his book on Game Theory.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

"When you need good information of this sort, don't google, wiki it ;-)"

Or, hesitant though I am to suggest a ghastly old-fashioned thing like a book, look it up in  the Encyclopedia Britannica, where you will find many references to von Neumann's work in a wide variety of fields.

When I was a lad, von Neumann was famous for his work on the foundations of quantum theory, especially his alleged proof of the impossibility of a hidden variable theory. He also pretty much invented game theory - William Poundstone's book "The Prisoner's Dilemma" has a lot about von Neumann - and was rather vaguely credited with the concept of the stored-program computer.

For von Neumann's role in the development of the computer, have a look at Alan Hodges' biography of Turing, "Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence". Again when I was a lad, nobody actually knew what a von Neumann architecture was, but it was vaguely considered to epitomise a serial architecture as against a parallel architecture.

What is HCI, by the way?

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

HCI? As in Human Computer Interaction? I don't know of anything you could say that vN contributed directly to HCI (architecture, for sure, and so of course indirectly to HCI).

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

I agree with as - Hodge's biography ot Turing is excellent, not least because of the credit given to others.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

If you want to learn more about Von Neumann, watch the movie Dr. Strangelove; that's him (he was wheelchair bound from cancer he developed building the Bomb).

Tom H
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Indeed. And if you want to know more about Keith Richards, be sure to watch "Pirates of the Caribbean".

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

If I remember correctly, the USPS plans to issue a stamp on JvN sometime in 2005. 

Carry on.

Joe Blandy
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

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