The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer

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9780471396710: The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to the Quantum Computer
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A brilliant follow-up to a landmark international bestseller

"Suppose every instrument could by command or by anticipation of need execute its function on its own; suppose that spindles could weave of their own accord, and plectra strike the strings of zithers by themselves; then craftsmen would have no need of hand-work, and masters have no need of slaves." –Aristotle Called the Indiana Jones of arithmetic, Georges Ifrah embarked in 1974 on a ten-year quest to discover where numbers come from and what they say about us. His first book, the highly praised Universal History of Numbers, drew from this remarkable journey, presented the first complete account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over–and became an international bestseller. In The Universal History of Computing, Ifrah continues his exhilarating exploration into the fascinating world of numbers. In this fun, engaging but no less learned book, he traces the development of computing from the invention of the abacus to the creation of the binary system three centuries ago to the incredible conceptual, scientific, and technical achievements that made the first modern computers possible. He shows us how various cultures, scientists, and industries across the world struggled to break free of the tedious labor of mental calculation and, as a result, he reveals the evolution of the human mind. Evoking the excitement and joy that accompanied the grand mathematical undertakings throughout history, Ifrah takes us along as he revisits a multitude of cultures, from Roman times and the Chinese Common Era to twentieth-century England and America. We meet mathematicians, visionaries, philosophers, and scholars from every corner of the world and from every period of history. We witness the dead ends and regressions in the computer’s development, as well as the advances and illuminating discoveries. We learn about the births of the pocket calculator, the adding machine, the cash register, and even automata. We find out how the origins of the computer can be found in the European Renaissance, along with how World War II influenced the development of analytical calculation. And we explore such hot topics as numerical codes and the recent discovery of new kinds of number systems, such as "surreal" numbers. Adventurous and enthralling, The Universal History of Computing is an astonishing achievement that not only unravels the epic tale of computing, but also tells the compelling story of human intelligence–and how much farther we still have to go.

GEORGES IFRAH is an independent scholar and former math teacher. E. F. Harding, the primary translator, is a statistician and mathematician who has taught at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Cambridge Universities. SOPHIE WOOD, cotranslator, is a specialist in technical translation from French. Ian Monk, cotranslator, has translated the works of Georges Perec and Daniel Pennac. ELIZABETH CLEGG, cotranslator, is also an interpreter who has worked on a number of government and international agency projects. Guido Waldman, cotranslator, has translated several classic literary works.

In this engaging successor to The Universal History of Numbers, you’ll discover the entire story of the calculation of yesteryear and the computation of today. From the invention of the abacus to the creation of the binary system three centuries ago to the conceptual, scientific, and technical achievements that made the earliest computers possible, highly acclaimed author and mathematician Georges Ifrah provides an illuminating glimpse into humankind’s greatest intellectual tale: the story of computing.

PRAISE FOR GEORGES IFRAH’S The Universal History of Numbers

"Georges Ifrah is the man. This book, quite simply, rules. . . . It is outstanding . . . a mind-boggling and enriching experience." –The Guardian (London)

"Monumental . . . a fascinating journey taking us through many different cultures."–The Times (London)

"Ifrah’s book amazes and fascinates by the scope of its scholarship. It is nothing less than the history of the human race told through figures."–International Herald Tribune

"Dazzling."–Kirkus Reviews

"Sure to transfix readers."–Publishers Weekly

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Review:

From the I Ching to AI, tremendous human brainpower has been devoted to devising easier means of counting and thinking. Former math teacher Georges Ifrah has devoted his life to tracking down traces of our early calculating tools and reporting on them with charm and verve. The Universal History of Computing: From the Abacus to Quantum Computing gives a grand title to a grand subject, and Ifrah makes good on his promise of universality by leaping far back in time and spanning all of the inhabited continents. If his scope is vast, his stories and details are still engrossing. Readers will hang on to the stories of 19th-century inventors who converged on multiplication machines and other, more general "engines," and better understand the roots of biological and quantum computation. Ifrah has great respect for our ancestors and their work, and he transmits this feeling to his readers with humor and humility. His timelines, diagrams, and concordance help the reader who might be unfamiliar with foreign concepts of numbers and computation keep up with his narrative. By the end, his slight bias against strong artificial intelligence comes through, but he is careful to acknowledge the future's unforeseeable nature and suggest that we keep our minds open. How can we resist? --Rob Lightner

From the Inside Flap:

"Suppose every instrument could by command or by anticipation of need execute its function on its own; suppose that spindles could weave of their own accord, and plectra strike the strings of zithers by themselves; then craftsmen would have no need of hand-work, and masters have no need of slaves." –Aristotle Called the Indiana Jones of arithmetic, Georges Ifrah embarked in 1974 on a ten-year quest to discover where numbers come from and what they say about us. His first book, the highly praised Universal History of Numbers, drew from this remarkable journey, presented the first complete account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over–and became an international bestseller.

In The Universal History of Computing, Ifrah continues his exhilarating exploration into the fascinating world of numbers. In this fun, engaging but no less learned book, he traces the development of computing from the invention of the abacus to the creation of the binary system three centuries ago to the incredible conceptual, scientific, and technical achievements that made the first modern computers possible. He shows us how various cultures, scientists, and industries across the world struggled to break free of the tedious labor of mental calculation and, as a result, he reveals the evolution of the human mind.

Evoking the excitement and joy that accompanied the grand mathematical undertakings throughout history, Ifrah takes us along as he revisits a multitude of cultures, from Roman times and the Chinese Common Era to twentieth-century England and America. We meet mathematicians, visionaries, philosophers, and scholars from every corner of the world and from every period of history. We witness the dead ends and regressions in the computer’s development, as well as the advances and illuminating discoveries. We learn about the births of the pocket calculator, the adding machine, the cash register, and even automata. We find out how the origins of the computer can be found in the European Renaissance, along with how World War II influenced the development of analytical calculation. And we explore such hot topics as numerical codes and the recent discovery of new kinds of number systems, such as "surreal" numbers.Adventurous and enthralling, The Universal History of Computing is an astonishing achievement that not only unravels the epic tale of computing, but also tells the compelling story of human intelligence–and how much farther we still have to go.

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