Up Front: TRIED AND TRUE
REINVENTING THE COMPUTER, IN A.D. 400
IS ST. AUGUSTINE of Hippo the father of the next breakthrough in cybernetics? The great Christian theologian died in Roman Africa in 430. Now, a scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., thinks his writings on the Holy Trinity may hold the seeds of a new form of symbolic logic that could lead to such advances as radically different computer designs.
Augustine, Athanasius, and others conceived of one God in three "persons": the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. William McLaughlin, JPL's deputy manager of astrophysics, says the notion of being both one thing and multiple things at once violates the "set" theory underlying today's computers. "There may be some real substance in there that one could milk out," says McLaughlin, who has articulated his idea in an article and is puzzling out its implications. A "Trinity" computer, for example, might have multiple processors that share work and excel at, say, spotting patterns. Long-dead thinkers have been inspirational before: Today's computer logic is based on the work of George Boole, an English mathematician who died in 1864.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI Peter Coy