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John von Neumann
1903-1957

John von Newmann is one of the earliest thinkers on nanotechnology. Robert Freitas wrote: "The early history of self-replicating systems is the history of von Neumann's thinking on the matter". Self-replicating systems is a key concept for nanorobots, as these machines should reproduce themselves from surrounding molecules, as well as create different systems.

Ancestors of John von Neumann came to Hungary from Russia. John was born in Hungary in a wealthy Jewish family. Father was a lawyer in a bank. Wikipedia writes:

Although he attended school at the grade level appropriate to his age, his father hired private tutors to give him advanced instruction in those areas in which he had displayed an aptitude”, and that was languages and mathematics. “He received his Ph.D. in mathematics (with minors in experimental physics and chemistry) from the University of Budapest at the age of 22[1]. He simultaneously earned his diploma in chemical engineering from the ETH Zurich in Switzerland[1] at the behest of his father, who wanted his son to invest his time in a more financially viable endeavour than mathematics. Between 1926 and 1930 he taught as the youngest privatdozent at the University of Berlin...

Von Neumann was invited to Princeton University, New Jersey in 1930, and, subsequently, was one of four people selected for the first faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study (two of the others were Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel), where he was a mathematics professor from its formation in 1933 until his death".

Neumann was close to development of Godel’s theorem of incompleteness. The theory said:

1. “the usual axiomatic systems are incomplete, in the sense that they cannot prove every truth which is expressible in their language” and

2. “the usual axiomatic systems are unable to demonstrate their own consistency”.

It is curious to note that the idea of self-replicating systems was conceived in Eastern Europe, on the territory of the present-day Ukraine. In Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle book "Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines", published in 2004, we read:

"Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish mathematician who befriended John von Neumann in 1937 and later gave von Neumann the initial idea for cellular automaton replicators, recalled 'sitting in a coffeehouse in Lwow in 1929, speculating on the possibility of artificial automata reproducing themselves'.”

Von Neumann proposed a universal computer in a tandem with a universal constructor. The universal computer directs the universal constructor. This constructor 1) constructs itself; 2) constructs universal computer, 3) constructs some other new thing.

In his political convictions, John Neumann was an anti-communist: “During a Senate committee hearing he described his political ideology as "violently anti-communist, and much more militaristic than the norm... He also favored a preemptive nuclear attack on the USSR, believing that doing so could prevent it from obtaining the atomic bomb.[13]

On the personal note, “Von Neumann persistently gazed at the legs of young women (so much so that female secretaries at Los Alamos often covered up the exposed undersides of their desks with cardboard”.

Neumann was an absent-minded, often reading books while driving. In his own words:

"I was proceeding down the road. The trees on the right were passing me in orderly fashion at 60 miles per hour. Suddenly one of them stepped in my path."[15]

Newmann died of cancer who got from nuclear tests.

Documentary movie about Newmann


1) Newmann tried to be a universal man, being interested in many subjects, not just math

2) Suggested a machine capable of self-improvement and self-construction

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