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What would Johnny do?

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The Lounge What is on Your Mind? What would Johnny do?
# 1  
Old 06-23-2013
What would Johnny do?

This year is the 110th birthyear of John von Neumann (born "Neumann Janos"). Interestingly, despite his achievements, both in number and in profoundness, he is hardly known among the general public. He played a fundamental role however in the development of the computer, being the first to understand that a computer program is a special type of data and that therefore a program fits as much in memory as does the data it works on. This is where the name "Von Neumann architecture" is from. This idea lead him to design a computer and he subsequently set out to build one. It was used in ballistics calculations and weather predictions.
He possessed a blazingly fast mind and a fearsome intellectual prowess:
  • He designed a self-reproducing program and is therefore considered to be the theoretical father of computer virology.
  • He is the co-inventor of Monte Carlo simulation methods and developed the field of cellular automata.
  • Among others he understood that having a faulty component in a machine, does not necessarily make it less accurate. This lead him to develop a random number generator by debiasing the output stream using an algorithm that he invented.
  • Then there are his many contributions he made to the fields of mathematics (both pure and applied), quantum machanics, nuclear physics and geometry, among others.

The fields most of us work in have an inherent level of problem solving that is required. Whenever I encounter a problem which even after a day seems intractable, I try to step back and think and wonder what he would have done. When faced with the same problem, no doubt a solution would have come to his mind which would have been both instantaneous and structural.
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# 2  
Old 06-27-2013
Nowadays, when serious mathematicians are really stuck on an intractable problem, one solution is to 'get Terry Tao interested in the problem'. In the 1940's that person was John von Neumann.
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