János Neumann (1903-1957)

Most likely, you use a computer on a daily basis for work, or you have activities that require computational systems. Computers are everywhere: we use them for shopping, reading the news, sending messages, medical research, economic planning, watching movies, and playing games. Did you know that János Neumann, also known as John von Neumann, who came from a Jewish family from Marghita, made significant contributions to the development of modern informatics systems?

János Neumann with the ENIAC, one of the first electric computers, in 1945. Image source: Origo

János Neumann was born in 1903, when his family, who was culturally assimilated and non-observant, had been long settled in Budapest. His father, a bank director, could provide him with the best education: he learned foreign languages, attended an elite high school, and met university professors who discovered his talent and encouraged him to develop it at a young age. He studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry in Budapest, Berlin, and Zürich.

Childhood portrait. János Neumann's talent for mathematics was remarkable already at a very young age. Image source: Origo

He was invited to Princeton University in 1930, where he taught and worked on cutting-edge research projects. During WWII, he was involved in the development of the atomic bomb, which led to his profound ethical quandaries about science. Together with Oskar Morgenstern, he generated game theory, which can be used to understand decision making in economics, politics, and armed conflicts.

János Neumann (at the right) with his colleagues at a research institute for informatics. Image source: Wikipedia

János Neumann played a critical role in developing digital computers by employing the binary numeral system and developing the structures required for storing data and programs, which sparked the 1950s-1960s informatics revolution. Our world would most likely be very different if he and his colleagues did not exist.

János Neumann's daughter, Marina, wrote a captivating memoir about their family. Image source: University of Michigan

Orsolya András graduated from the Faculty of Letters, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj. Since 2012 she works as a freelance translator. Between September 2021 and February 2022 she was museum assistant at Muzeon.

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