Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future

Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future – Every day, we use our computers to perform remarkable feats. A simple web search picks out a handful of relevant needles from the world’s biggest haystack: the billions of pages on the World Wide Web. Uploading a photo to Facebook transmits millions of pieces of information over numerous error-prone network links, yet somehow a perfect copy of the photo arrives intact. Without even knowing it, we use public-key cryptography to transmit secret information like credit card numbers; and we use digital signatures to verify the identity of the websites we visit. How do our computers perform these tasks with such ease?

This is the first book to answer that question in language anyone can understand, revealing the extraordinary ideas that power our PCs, laptops, and smartphones. Using vivid examples, John MacCormick explains the fundamental “tricks” behind nine types of computer algorithms, including artificial intelligence (where we learn about the “nearest neighbor trick” and “twenty questions trick”), Google’s famous PageRank algorithm (which uses the “random surfer trick”), data compression, error correction, and much more.

These revolutionary algorithms have changed our world: this book unlocks their secrets, and lays bare the incredible ideas that our computers use every day.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Honorable Mention for the 2012 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Computing & Information Sciences, Association of American Publishers”

Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future offers a great way to find out what computer science is really about. In this very readable book, MacCormick (a computer scientist at Dickinson College) shows how a collection of sets of intangible instructions invented since the 1940s has led to monumental changes in all our lives. . . . MacCormick provides a taste of why we computer scientists get so excited about algorithms–for their utility, of course, but also for their beauty and elegance.”—Paul Curzon, Science

“MacCormick’s book is an easy-to-read and enjoyable guide to some key algorithms. Above all, it conveys a sense of wonder–at the beautiful science, rather than the technical feats, that makes computers do their magic.”—Andreas Trabesinger, Nature Physics

“Excellent. . . . MacCormick clearly believes that to be a responsible driver of current technology, you need to understand what is going on at the fundamental level. In addition, he wants us to take delight in the elegance of the solutions that have been developed to address complex questions of the security, integrity and availability of data and digital services. . . . This is an unusually well-written text suitable for anyone with an interest in how today’s information systems really work.”—John Gilbey, Times Higher Education

“Despite the widespread popular interest in computers, there are very few good, popular introductions to the central ideas of computer science. Nine Algorithms that Changed the Future is certainly one of the best that I have seen. . . . An extraordinary achievement in the daunting task of presenting computer science for a popular audience.”—Ernest Davis, SIAM News

“Most people know little and care less about how, say, electronic payments are kept secure or how movies are crammed onto DVDs. But as MacCormick shows, they’re the result of often stunning ingenuity and creativity. . . . For insights into the thinking that can turn gigabytes into gigabucks, start here.”—Robert Matthews, BBC Focus

“[MacCormick] masterfully uses everyday analogies in a way that gets to the heart of the ideas (he calls them tricks) that make the algorithms work. While this is essential for readers without mathematical background, the other lesson that jumps out is that this is a great way to introduce these algorithms to mathematics and computer science students who will go on to more in-depth treatments. . . . This excellent survey is an outstanding achievement and would make an excellent library acquisition.”—Art Gittleman, MAA Reviews

“MacCormick leaves the reader with a sense of the engine that powers the networked world. And at its best, Nine Algorithms enables you to recognise the real world and begin to see those algorithms alive and kicking all around us.”—Kevin Slavin, New Scientist

Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future is technically right on the money, but manages to explain things in ways that are both understandable and fun. . . . Each chapter starts out very simply, gradually building up more complex examples until you reach a full understanding of the algorithm being explained. . . . The writing is excellent: clear, precise, and fun. I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about the ingenious mathematical and algorithmic ideas underlying some of today’s most ubiquitous technology.”—Brent Yorgey, Math Less Traveled

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From the Back Cover

“It’s been a long time since any book has given me the excitement I remember from reading Hawking and Feynman in my teens. This book does exactly that. It reminds me why I love computer science. MacCormick’s explanations are easy to understand yet they tell the real story of how these algorithms actually work. This is a book that deserves not just to be admired, but celebrated.”–Andrew Fitzgibbon, creator of Emmy-winning camera software and consultant for the Xbox 360 Kinect

“This book is for those who have wondered, ‘What actually goes on in my computer?’ MacCormick clearly explains some of the algorithms used by hundreds of millions of people daily. Not the simple algorithms like arithmetic and sorting, but more complex things such as how to determine the importance of web pages, if and when we are justified in trusting a computer-mediated conversation with another person, and the puzzling issue of what cannot be computed. I recommend it highly.”–Chuck Thacker, winner of the 2010 Turing Award

“This is a delightful exploration, in layman’s terms, of nine beautiful algorithms that are essential to today’s computers. Using clever analogies, MacCormick gives readers a greater knowledge of both the technology they use every day and the intellectual underpinnings of computing. He combines a mathematician’s appreciation of powerful ideas and an educator’s skill at explaining them in an engaging way.”–Sharon Perl, Google

“MacCormick picks nine algorithms for his version of ‘genius awards,’ and they are good ones. The reader comes away with a new sense of what genius in computer science looks like. And MacCormick leaves room for a future genius, perhaps inspired by this book, to someday make it a top ten list.”–William H. Press, coauthor of Numerical Recipes

“John MacCormick has taken many of the algorithms that we rely on every day and explained them in a way that you can understand even if you have a meager mathematical background. I particularly like how he explains public-key cryptography by analogy to mixing paint.”–Thomas H. Cormen, Dartmouth College

“MacCormick does a great job of explaining sophisticated ideas in a simple way, and his analogies are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the thoughtful and detailed historical asides.”–Amy N. Langville, coauthor of Google’s PageRank and Beyond: The Science of Search Engine Rankings

Originally published: 27 December 2011

Author: John MacCormick

Page count: 232

Genre: Thesis

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Country: United States

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