What Hath Von Neumann Wrought?

Short Form


I've sub-titled this presentation "skeptical musings of a reluctant cyborg." I'm mostly going to talk about computational journalism, but don't be surprised if some science fiction finds its way into the discussion.


Von Neumann wrought his creations in wartime. The modern computer was born as an instrument of war, as was the Internet. In the years after Von Neumann, three wartime technologies – nuclear energy, space flight and computers – evolved into full-fledged industries. Writers, both fiction and non-fiction, speculated on worlds utopian and dystopian in which computers would replace humans.

Like space flight and nuclear energy, the computer and the Internet have only imperfectly been beaten into plowshares. We live, for example, in a world where anarchists have discovered ways to disrupt our online lives for their own amusement.

Computational journalism is an emerging technology that brings developers and storytellers together. It lives at the intersection of verbal and mathematical reasoning. I am more of a developer than a storyteller, to be sure, but I believe that both disciplines are vital to steer civilization between the utopias and dystopias that technology confronts us with on a daily basis in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Speaking experience

I've been speaking since I was about two years old and writing since the first grade. My first computer was made out of wood. This is my first time with this particular talk.