George Dyson – Turing’s Cathedral

Watching George Dyson delivering his keynote speech at NEXT Berlin 2012 one can easily see how happy he feels about this year’s conference topic “post-digital”. As a historian he focused on the evolution of computation, with particular reference to the work of Turing and van Neumann.

In the first half of the 20th century these scientists dealt with analog computation which uses continuous data in order to set up a model simulating the behaviour of the original. Gradually, analog computation was replaced by digital and became less important.

By dipping into the past, Dyson opens up a new perspective on the present and shows us what the future might look like: In his opinion, Facebook is one of the finest examples of analog computation. Its role in everyday life by far exceeds the digital code it consists of. Instead of just representing the social structures we are living in, it became our social network and is evolving in real time with our relationships.

These modern technologies are going beyond their digital components. They are more than digital. In this sense, we truly have reached the post-digital era. Therefore Dyson claims analog computing to be the next big thing – as it already has been 60 years ago.