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on 30 June 2001
It is difficult not to wonder what would people like John von Neumann could do if they were alive today - it is *so* impressive to see what they managed to achieve with the technology they had at the time. There is no doubt we are in debt with these guys (von Neumann, Shannon, Turing, etc.)
Read the original works - like "The Computer and the Brain". They are as valid today as they were many, many years ago.
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on 2 November 2009
Von Neumann is one the brilliant mathematician and an expert of computer logic. This book is dated, manuscript written in 1957, but from the historical perspectives it still well worth reading. Neumann's pioneering work lead to considerable advances in computers and his ideas lead to advances in computer automation and robotics. The thoughts of Klara von Neumann, the wife of John Neumann provides a brief sketch of events that lead to the presentation at the Silliman Foundation lectures at Yale University. Neumann was diagnosed with bone cancer that confined him to the wheelchair. His health deteriorating by the day until his death in early 1957, unable to deliver the prestigious lecture and unable to complete the manuscript for the lecture, Yale University eventually published his partly-completed manuscript as a part of the prestigious Silliman lectures.

This book is described in two parts; the computer and the brain. The basic concepts of analog and digital procedures, the characteristics of digital machine types and their basic components, memory-stored controls, memory capacities, and the concept of access time are discussed with regards to the machine. In the second part the author discusses the structure and function of human brain and compares the common characteristics between the brain and computer. The author provides a comparative analysis of the nerve cell (neuron); how it generates and propagates nerve impulses compared with generation and propagation of computer messages. The author looks at the complexity on neurons and its functions; the nature of the nerve impulses, the process of its stimulation, digital character, the problem of memory within the nervous system. Although the author still refers to vacuum-tube machines, the flip-flops, and transistor technology, but the basic concepts underlying the development of memory elements in a computer is well worth the reading.

The recent advances in automation and robotics illustrate the early contribution of von Neumann in this field. In a recent study, Christopher Macleod and his colleagues in Aberdeen, UK, have created a robot that evolves like a living species in biological evolution. When the incremental evolutionary algorithm (lEA) realizes that its evolutions are no longer improving the robot's speed it freezes the neural network it has evolved, denying it the ability to evolve further. The sensors determine what it needs to carry out a given task most effectively. As animals evolved, the robots can evolve similarly. The robot can also adapt to newly acquired vision, and learn how to avoid or seek light when given a camera. This is just like the way the brain evolved building up in layers.

1. Minds, Brains, Computers: The Foundations of Cognitive Science - An Historical Introduction
2. Enchanted Looms: Conscious Networks in Brains and Computers
3. Brain-computer Interfaces: An International Assessment of Research and Development Trends
4. Logic in Computer Science: Modelling and Reasoning About Systems
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