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50th Anniversary Signature Event

George Dyson - President's Distinguished Lecture and Special Convocation

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | 7:00 pm | University Centre Farquhar Auditorium


"Two Years Before the Mast"

George Dyson, 1973, off Cape Caution, on a trip in Queen Charlotte Sound.George Dyson is a highly regarded author and historian of technology whose latest book, Turing's Cathedral, has been called “a wonderful, even visionary” account of the early years of computers. He attributes his influential ideas on the symbiosis and co-evolution of humans, animals, and machines to lessons learned as a youth, exploring BC’s coastal waters. Dyson arrived in Vancouver from New Jersey in 1970, having just turned seventeen. He served as deckhand aboard the sailing vessel D’Sonoqua for two years, delivering cargo to small communities and spent a memorable winter in Quatsino Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the following years, he played an leading role in the adaptation of traditional kayak designs for contemporary uses.

George Dyson received an Honorary Doctor of Laws at this Special Convocation. In the President’s Distinguished Lecture that followed, Dyson traced the genesis of his thinking about intersections of nature, history and technology to his early explorations of our coast and its long and continuing history of providing free range to vessels, wildlife, and ideas. He linked this experience to perspectives discussed in his wide-ranging and acclaimed works:

  • Baidarka: The Kayak (1986)
  • Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence (1997)
  • Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship (2002)
  • Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (2012)
  • and the forthcoming Analogia.


Event Videos

View George Dyson's Special Convocation

George Dyson's Special Convocation video

View George Dsyon's President's Distinguished Lecture

George Dyson lecture video



Event Photos

See event highlights below

George Dyson signs UVic's visitor's book. Credit: UVic Photography Mace Bearer—Dr. Micaela Serra, Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering. Credit: UVic Photography George Dyson at the Special Convocation. Credit: UVic Photography The conferring of Honorary Doctor of Laws. Credit: UVic Photography Chancellor Murray Farmer shakes Dr. George Dyson's hand. Credit: UVic Photography Dr. Dyson signs the register under the direction of the Dr. Reeta Tremblay and the University Secretary. Credit: UVic Photography. Dr. Dyson during his President's Distinguished Lecture. Credit: UVic Photography Dr. Dyson gives his President's Distinguished Lecture titled Two Years Before the Mast. Credit: UVic Photography Dr. Dyson showed the audience pictures from his extraordinary career. Credit: UVic Photography Dr. Dyson discussed how he came to be a central character in The Starship & the Canoe. Credit: UVic Photography The audience at the George Dyson's President's Distinguished Lecture. Credit: UVic Photography Emcee Dean Archibald and George Dyson during the question and answer period. Credit: UVic Photography

George Dyson's Biographical Notes

George Dyson's Biographical Notes

George Dyson is an acclaimed author and historian of technology. The New York Times describes his latest book, Turing's Cathedral, as "a ground breaking history [that] brims with unexpected detail."

Dyson left home in Princeton, New Jersey and came to BC in 1970, where he became a Canadian citizen, and for a period of time lived in a tree house he had built 30 metres up a Douglas fir near Belcarra, on Burrard Inlet. He supported himself by working aboard boats up and down the coast while gaining an interest in building traditional ocean kayaks with modern materials.

His widely acclaimed first book, Baidarka was published in 1986 and is credited with reviving interest in traditional sea kayaking on the West Coast. His research delved into the historical kayak designs created by the native peoples of western North America, how the designs were used, and how they evolved with the arrival of the Russian fur trade.

The book also signaled what would become the primary themes of his writing: the symbiosis and co-evolution of humans, animals, and machines and the intersection of nature, history and technology.

Turing’s Cathedral was published earlier this year and coincides with the centennial of the birth of computer pioneer Alan Turing. The book reveals the wide cast of characters – many of whom were brilliant war refugees from Europe – who built one of the first electronic computers to fully realize Turing’s vision of a Universal Machine. The Boston Globe describes Turing’s Cathedral as “not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange.”

Dyson’s two other titles have also been well received. Darwin Among the Machines – on the history and possible future of artificial intelligence and its implications for humanity – was praised for its combination of scholarship and provocative speculation. Project Orion details the serious, abandoned and now unthinkable program for interplanetary space travel propelled by nuclear explosions.

A riveting, thought-provoking speaker, Dyson has been featured at TED (Technology Entertainment Design) and he was the lead speaker at the grand opening of the Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute in 2011.

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