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The birth of the computer: George Dyson on TED.com

Historian George Dyson tells stories from the birth of the digital computer — from its 16th-century origins to the hilarious notebooks of the first computer engineers. Dyson, a dedicated archivist and crate-digger, has found some stories that haven’t been told for 50 years. For instance: in the files of Nils Aall Barricelli, the genius who created the first artificial life within these just-born machines, Dyson found the punchcards containing Barricelli’s creatures — on the verge of being thrown in the trash. Patting the box of cards now, Dyson wonders, would they like to come alive again? (Recorded February 2003 in Monterey, California. Duration: 17:19.)

Watch George Dyson’s talk on TED.com, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances — including Dyson’s 2002 talk on Project Orion, a plan to send a nuclear-powered rocket to Saturn.

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