Tag Archives: John von Neumann

Ananyo Bhattacharya

What had become the longest trial in the history of the federal court system concluded with the ruling that the most valuable invention of the twentieth century could not be patented. The open source movement, born a decade or so later, would soon shun corporate secrecy, lauding the benefits of freely sharing information to drive forward innovation. Thanks to von Neumann those principles were baked into computing from the very beginning.

Ananyo Bhattacharya, The Man from the Future: the visionary life Of John von Neumann, London, 2021, ch. 5

Stanisław Ulam

At one time I had undertaken to write a book on von Neumann’s scientific life. In trying to plan it, I thought of how I, along with many others, had been influenced by him; and how this man, and some others I knew, working in the purely abstract realm of mathematics and theoretical physics had changed aspects of the world as we know it. […] It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.

Stanisław Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, New York, 1976, pp. 4-5

István Hargittai

Because of his many different engagements, von Neumann had to be especially concerned with secrecy, but he took this with good humor. As he was traveling a lot, he was accompanied by two “gorillas.” He met with Stanislaw Ulam on the Chicago railway station and recruited him for the work at Los Alamos. However, von Neumann could not reveal the exact nature of work, nor the location. He could only tell Ulam that it was in the southwest. Ulam told him: “I know you can’t tell me, but you say you are going southwest in order that I should think that you are going northeast. But I know you are going southwest, so why do you lie?”

István Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century, Oxford, 2006, p. 123