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The Von Neumann architecture has the following components:

  • A processing unit with both an arithmetic logic unit and processor registers
  • A control unit that includes an instruction register and program counter
  • Memory that stores data and instructions
  • External mass storage
  • Input and output mechanisms

My question is, where did these come from? How did von Neumann come up with the idea that a computer should have these components, especially the idea of processor registers such as instruction register and program counter? Did he derive it from register machines? Or was he just super genius that it just popped up in his head?

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    You seem to be looking for an anecdote like Newton's apple. No, none here.
    – tofro
    Sep 22, 2023 at 9:14
  • A stroke of geniousness I guess
    – ABM K
    Sep 22, 2023 at 9:31
  • Reading the linked article, you can see that he was well aware of the works of other pioneers, like Turing and Zuse, so he might only have doen a sumary of what he learned from others.
    – UncleBod
    Sep 22, 2023 at 10:03
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    I once heard a rumor that Alan Turing was not very happy with the fact that all the work he did while associated with the GCHQ was top secret, so he and John von Neumann concocted a scheme where von Neumann would slightly modify and expand on Turing's work and publish it under his own name. It may be just a crazy conspiracy theory, though. Sep 22, 2023 at 10:36
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    How does anyone design anything?
    – dave
    Sep 22, 2023 at 12:21

1 Answer 1

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Already discussed in detail here.


My question is, where did these come from?

From what he learned about the EDVAC project - which he joint part time later on.

How did von Neumann come up with the idea that a computer should have these components, especially the idea of processor registers such as instruction register and program counter?

He didn't. Those ideas were already there and implemented in machines before.

Or was he just super genius that it just popped up in his head?

LOL. No. What he did is putting those already known concepts into a consistent paper so he could elaborate on his understanding of how to design functions from simple logic gates. That paper got circulated to a wider audience which then associated that structure (for simplicity of communication) with his name.

The old story of publish-or-perish: His publication went quite well which made it remembered over all others that implemented such structures many years before he wrote about.

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    I understand your position on the topic, but seriously, answering a question, saying explicitly it’s already discussed elsewhere, and then hammering it shut feels like an abuse of the privileges given to you with the gold tag badge. In some cases I agree it makes sense to answer and vote to close, but not for a duplicate (if it warrants an answer, it’s not a dupe, by definition). Sep 22, 2023 at 18:47
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    @StephenKitt Understandable, and in fact, I was as surprised. I did write that answer first, and added that link - which I still feel placed well, to avoid the usual bickering of 'but this question is different'. When voting for closure I expected it to (hopefully) collect enough agreement among members. Not being aware about that function (privilege) immediate closure was unexpected. It was the first time this happened to me in all the years. Not sure if I like it.
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 22, 2023 at 19:26
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    Ah, right, that makes sense — it is a bit surprising the first time a question is closed instantly instead of starting a vote! Sep 22, 2023 at 20:28

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