The Advent of the Algorithm: The Idea that Rules the World

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9780151003389: The Advent of the Algorithm: The Idea that Rules the World
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The algorithm is just code, but it makes things happen. It's the set of abstract, detailed instructions that makes computers run. Any programmer can invent a new algorithm-and many have become millionaires doing just that. Computers, the Internet, virtual reality-our world is being transformed before our eyes, all because some quirky logicians and mathematicians followed the dream of ultimate abstraction and invented the algorithm. Beginning with Leibniz and culminating in the middle of this century with the work of little-known geniuses and eccentrics like Gödel and Turing, David Berlinski tells this epic tale with clarity and imaginative brilliance. You don't have to be a programmer or a math buff to enjoy his book. All you have to do is be fascinated by the greatest innovation of the twentieth century.

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Review:

Francis Sullivan of the Institute for Defense Analysis said "Great algorithms are the poetry of computation"; David Berlinski calls the algorithm "the idea that rules the world." The Advent of the Algorithm is not so much a history of algorithms as a historical fantasia. Berlinski spins freely between semifictional accounts of historical figures, personal reminiscence, and mathematical proofs--without ever really defining an algorithm in so many words.

This is not the book for those who were maddened by Berlinski's A Tour of the Calculus; his style remains quirky, digressive, self-referential, and dense:

And then, by some inscrutable incandescent insight, Leibniz came to see that what is crucial in what he had written is the alternation between God and Nothingness. And for this, the numbers 0 and 1 suffice.

Twinkies and Diet Coke in hand, computer programmers can now be observed pausing thoughtfully at their consoles.

Berlinski's argument seems to be that algorithms--step-by-step procedures for getting answers--superceded logic, and will be superceded in turn by more biological, empirical, fuzzy methods. The structure of the book reflects this argument--sketches of people like Leibniz, Hilbert, Gödel, and Turing are interwoven with proofs and with characters of Berlinski's own invention. Berlinski's voice, closer to Hofstadter than to Knuth, remains unique. --Mary Ellen Curtin

Book Description:

Simply put, an algorithm is a set of instructions-it's the code that makes computers run. A basic idea that proved elusive for hundreds of years and bent the minds of the greatest thinkers in the world, the algorithm is what made the modern world possible. Without the algorithm, there would have been no computer, no Internet, no virtual reality, no e-mail, or any other technological advance that we rely on every day.
In The Advent of the Algorithm, David Berlinski combines science, history, and math to explain and explore the intriguing story of how the algorithm was finally discovered by a succession of mathematicians and logicians, and how this paved the way for the digital age. Beginning with Leibniz and culminating in the middle of the twentieth century with the groundbreaking work of Gödel and Turing, The Advent of the Algorithm is an epic tale told with clarity and imaginative brilliance.

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