Kings of Hell
Between the years 1930 and 1950, the early evolution of the computer and the pursuit of the nuclear bomb and nuclear technology are inextricably linked. From the many scientists (physicists, mathematicians, and engineers) involved with this evolution, I have selected five men to represent the opening of this Pandora’s box of technologies. I have titled these men the “Kings of Hell” because the implication these technologies portended for the future was both evil and useful.
When Leo Szilard arrived at the science of the nuclear chain reaction and realized its result would be the nuclear explosion, he famously said: “This technology will unleash so much evil in the world.” We know that opening Pandora’s Box what escapes cannot be put back. As with nuclear technology, the evolution of the computer has led to the specter of artificial intelligence and the slippery slope of machine learning technology and it is leading us to an uncertain future.
These five print paintings on paper are each titled after a scientist: Alan Turing, John Von Neumann, Leo Szilard, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller. Each painting is layered with screen-printed images referencing different aspects and times of the evolution of the computer including the first computer program (1840), the Von Neumann Architecture diagram (1938), a section of the 80186 Intel processor diagram (1981), and a piece of generic machine code. The dripping paint process both controlled and uncontrolled links the layers and images with a technique codified by Jackson Pollack in the late forties.
Alan Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general-purpose computer. He developed the Turing test to determine the ability of a machine’s intelligent behavior to be indistinguishable from that of a human.
John von Neumann was generally regarded as the foremost mathematician of his time and is said to be "the last representative of the great mathematicians" who integrated both pure and applied sciences. He made major contributions to computing ( Von Neumann architecture, linear programming, self-replicating machines, stochastic computing ) and also to a number of fields, including mathematics ( functional analysis, representation theory ), physics ( quantum mechanics, hydrodynamics ), economics ( game theory ), statistics. During World War II, von Neumann worked on the Manhattan Project with theoretical physicist Edward Teller and others, to solve key steps in the nuclear physics involved in thermonuclear reactions and the hydrogen bomb. He developed the mathematical models behind the explosive lenses used in the implosion-type nuclear weapon and coined the term "kiloton" (of TNT ), as a measure of the explosive force generated.
Leo Szilard was a Hungarian-German-American physicist and inventor. He conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear fission reactor in 1934, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the
J. Robert Oppenheimer was the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and is among those who are credited with being the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons . The first atomic bomb was successfully detonated on July 16, 1945, in the Trinity test in New Mexico. Oppenheimer later remarked that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds." In August 1945, the weapons were used in the atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki .
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist who is known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb although he did not care for the title as he was only part of a team that developed the technology. Throughout his life, Teller was known both for his scientific ability and for his difficult interpersonal relations and volatile personality. Born in Hungary in 1908 he immigrated to the United States in the 1930s as one of the many so-called "Martians", a group of prominent Hungarian scientist émigrés. He made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy, and surface physics. His extension of Enrico Fermi's theory of beta decay provided an important stepping stone in its application while several of his other theories have retained their original formulation and are still mainstays in physics and chemistry.