Von Neumann’s Recurrence

The Explosion of New Architectures Is Fundamentally Changing Computing” by Thomas Smith:

Ironically, as the world moves away from the Von Neumann architecture and towards Deep Learning and ultimately quantum computing, it brings us right back to…Von Neumann.

Guess who published the landmark 1936 paper than introduced the mechanics of quantum computing, and the logical systems on which a quantum computer would run?

That’s right — the great man himself.

Von Neumann originally introduced quantum logic in a 1932 book and developed it more systematically in a 1936 paper with mathematician Garrett Birkhoff. Their ideas largely sat unused for decades, waiting for technology to advance to the point where they could actually be applied.

Today, that point is finally being reached. Quantum computers — and new architectures like Deep Learning, which will ultimately draw on the power of quantum mechanics — are radically remaking computing, and moving the field ahead in fundamental ways.

For the last 75+ years, Von Neumann’s ideas have provided the underpinning for the entire field of computing. Computing, in turn, has radically remade our world-impacting every aspect of business, government, finance, medicine, culture, and daily life.

The fact that Von Neumann’s ideas have driven these radical changes for almost a century — and now, through quantum computing, stand poised to lead computing for another century or more — is a remarkable testament to the great man’s brilliance and impact on the world.

Though little-known outside computer science, Von Neumann is one of the seminal figures of the 20th century. As his ideas continue to be applied, he may yet prove to be a seminal figure of the 21st as well.

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