Nuclear bombs, game theory, the Cold War to the brink

John von Neumann died prematurely at 54, in 1957. He was very much a polymath, acknowledged first for his mathematical abilities, eventually contributing to physics, computer science and economics. His contributions in nuclear physics and game theory especially deserve better recognition than they’ve gotten among the public at large.

John von Neumann, NAS photo

Princeton University commemorates von Neumann’s life on the 50th anniversary of his death, with an afternoon and a night of lectures and discussion by scientists, economists and historians, October 5 and 6, 2007.

It should be good fun, and if you’re in the neighborhood of Princeton, New Jersey on October 5 and 6, you should go.

Here’s the biographical overview of von Neumann from the National Academy of Sciences, showing him to be the sort of guy we would have been happy to keep around another 40 years or so:

John von Neumann (1903-1957). When he was elected a member of the Academy in 1937, von Neumann was known for his contributions to the fields of mathematical logic and the foundations of quantum mechanics. But his interests were wide-ranging, and he went on to do distinguished work in other fields, including economics and strategic thinking. He is perhaps best known for his work in the early development of computers. As director of the Electronic Computer Project at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (1945-1955), he developed MANIAC (mathematical analyzer, numerical integrator and computer), which at the time was the fastest computer of its kind. Built at a time long before the invention of the silicon chip, MANIAC was run on thousands of vacuum tubes. Von Neumann was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1903, and studied in Berlin, Zurich, and Hamburg. In 1930 he joined the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. He became a US citizen in 1937, and during the Second World War distinguished himself with his work in weapons development. In 1955 he was named a Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission, a position he held up to his death from cancer in 1957.

Free Lecture No. 1:

Budapest: The Golden Years

Early Twentieth Century Mathematics Education in Budapest and Lessons for Today

Free and Open to the Public
Panel Discussion
October 5, 2007
3–6 p.m.
219 Aaron Burr Hall
Princeton University

The starting point for the discussion is The Social Construction of Hungarian Genius, 1867–1930, a paper by Professor Tibor Frank, an historian of Hungarian exiles. The paper will be available for distribution at the event.

Free Lecture No. 2:

“Living in von Neumann’s World: Scientific Creativity, Technological
Advancement, and Civilization’s Accelerating Dilemma of Power”

Lecture and Panel Discussion
8 pm, Saturday October 6, 2007
McCosh 50 Lecture Hall
Princeton University

Introduction by Charles Harper

Thomas Schelling, University of Maryland College Park,
Nobel Laureate, Economics
George Dyson,
von Neumann biographer

Panel Moderator:
Eric Gregory, Princeton University

Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study
Martin Nowak, Harvard University
Robert Wright, Princeton University

Banner for von Neumann Lectures, 2007

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