John von Neumann died 60 years ago

Commemoration under the umbrella of Digital Equality

John von Neumann, the world-famous Hungarian mathematician genius died exactly sixty years ago on 8 February. Our Society (NJSZT) is honoured to be named after John von Neumann, who made lasting achievements in a numerous of scientific fields from numerical meteorology to game theory. He was and is respected for his amazing versatility by his peers and subsequent generations, but the most outstanding accomplishments he ever made was the elaboration of the Neumann principles, which laid the foundations for modern computers.

John von Neumann with the IAS computer

John von Neumann was born in Hungary, but he worked in the United States, where he died at the age of 54. However, his professional heritage is everlasting.

Our Society has devoted special attention to the memory of John von Neumann over the decades. A permanent memorial room is dedicated to presenting documents related to his life and activities at our permanent Exhibition on Computer Science in Szeged, which was opened by her daughter, Marina von Neumann-Whitman.

We have placed a memorial plaque on the house, where he was born, on the corner of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Road and Báthori Street in Budapest. Every year we commemorate the anniversary of his death in front of this building, which is not far from our head office. As it is traditional by now, wreaths were placed on the plaque this year too as part of the joint commemoration attended by NJSZT staff and teachers and students from the John von Neumann Vocational School for Computer Science.

On behalf of NJSZT, István Alföldi, managing director, addressed those present. In the pouring winter rain, Alföldi talked under the umbrella of Digital Equality. Symbolically too, when he talked to the students about the responsibility they have by being digitally literate thanks to what they learn at their school. It is unfortunate that today millions of people are digitally illiterate, which implies that it is the responsibility of the digitally literate to make sure that as many people as possible can benefit from the advantages of technological advancements that will completely change our world in the next two or three years.

Alföldi quoted John von Neumann by saying "There is no cure for development", and added that the most important human qualities that will be needed in the rapidly changing world of information and communication technologies remain the same: "patience, flexibility and intelligence" , as von Neumann pointed it out.

István Alföldi advised those present not to get lost in their smart phones but to try to find the harmony between reality and the virtual world.
On behalf of the vocational secondary school, Erika Menyhárt, head of the institution, placed a wreath. Then Laura Pászti, from grade 11.E, recited a poem in commemoration of John von Neumann.

The poem was not written by one of the classic Hungarian poets, but by another "Martian" and fellow scientist of Neumann’s.

Untitled poem by Edward Teller

Searching and waiting, not wanting anything,

Loving and yearning, but losing everything.

Admiring the beauty, with my eyes being shot,

Perceive what no one saw, nobody knows it’s what,

Awed by the harmony, amazed by the secret,

Picturing in my mind, though have not seen it.

Adoring and loving everything that is clean,

The wind, white clouds, the snow and my dream;

To do what’s proper surely not for heaven,

Not for another world, but getting paid for them.

Knowing there is no goal, knowing there is no God,

I am scared that perhaps there’s no One who will be just.

Knowing the mind is poor, the willpower frail,

I am controlled by chance; life will do what it may.

But hoping stubbornly, I am still, still believing,

The work of my lifetime amounts to something.

I can welcome now the final peacefulness,

That cures all worldly pain, and our last due: death.

(Translated from the original Hungarian by Csaba Téglás)

István Alföldi and Erika Menyhárt

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