Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Todays Computers

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Nine algorithms that changed the future the ingenious ideas that dri…

John MacCormick. Publisher: Princeton University Press , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:.

Synopsis About this title Every day, we use our computers to perform remarkable feats. 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.

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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. Cormen, Dartmouth College "MacCormick does a great job of explaining sophisticated ideas in a simple way, and his analogies are wonderful. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title.

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Stock Image. Published by Princeton University Press 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. The journey MacCormick takes us on has an eclectic itinerary, but each element is presented with the same high degree of enthusiasm and engagement.

We begin with the largely unregarded by users at least area of web searching and how search engines decide which pages might most closely meet our requirement. Using the example of Google's original PageRank algorithm, famously developed in a Silicon Valley garage by two Stanford PhD students, the author takes us through some of the "tricks" of matching and ranking that can be used to help us find "needles in the world's biggest haystack".

Anyone who has ever wondered how their obscure query has been returned from across the world in a fraction of a second will be inspired by what they discover here: techniques that can appear superficially simple, yet become in equal parts intriguing and elegant yet increasingly complex as you delve into them further. And, of course, the more you understand about how it works, the better you are likely to become at framing effective queries.


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Public key cryptography is the next stop on our trip. The internet was designed to be open and robust, with the result that any message sent across it in plain text is about as secure from prying eyes as a message mailed on a postcard. As the requirement for enhanced security has evolved, so increasingly elaborate techniques for hiding information in plain sight have developed. While this area has a reputation for being conceptually complex, MacCormick uses a mixture of clear non-technical writing and elegant analogy to put across the message, step by step.

This clarity extends to the excellent discussion of digital signatures, which have rapidly become a key tool in achieving sensible, trusted validation for the source of a digital asset.

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Even deeper into the technology we are introduced to the core techniques of error correction - mechanisms that ensure that the data you send are not degraded in transit, and provide resilience against noisy communications infrastructure and defective media. This becomes even more important when viewed in the context of data compression - the almost magical techniques that allow us to squeeze digital photographs and videos into more portable packages.

MacCormick takes us through the benefits - and potential costs in terms of quality - of such methods, something all photographers should understand. Databases are the unsung heroes of today's technology. They are so deeply embedded in the everyday infrastructure of service delivery that we just expect them to work, like getting water when you turn on a tap.

Those who have been responsible for database administration, however, will tell you just how much frantic paddling it takes to achieve this level of digital nirvana. MacCormick explains some of the fundamental tools of database design and management - including such aspects as database replication and how you can roll back transactions. Trust me, these are things you really ought to know about if you are involved in information management. This is an unusually well-written text suitable for anyone with an interest in how today's information systems really work. It does not assume a strongly technical background and has an exceptionally welcoming style that will appeal to a wide readership.

Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Todays Computers

I recommend it unreservedly. John MacCormick grew up in New Zealand and spent most of his time sailing, kayaking and windsurfing, although he confesses he never mastered kite boarding. He initially studied law at the University of Auckland , but after his first term was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cambridge and decided to study mathematics.

Are there more great algorithms out there or have we already found them all? This is a good time to mention a caveat about the book's style. It's essential for any scientific writing to acknowledge sources clearly, but citations break up the flow of the text and give it an academic flavor. As readability and accessibility are top priorities for this book, there are no citations in the main body of the text. All sources are, however, clearly identified—often with amplifying comments—in the Sources and Further Reading section at the end of the book. This section also points to additional material that interested readers can use to find out more about the great algorithms of computer science.

Nine Algorithms that Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas that Drive Today's Computers

While I'm dealing with caveats, I should also mention that a small amount of poetic license was taken with the book's title. Our Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future are—without a doubt—revolutionary, but are there exactly nine of them? This is debatable, and depends on exactly what gets counted as a separate algorithm. So let's see where the nine comes from.

Excluding the introduction and conclusion, there are nine chapters in the book, each covering algorithms that have revolutionized a different type of computational task, such as cryptography, compression, or pattern recognition. Thus, the Nine Algorithms of the book's title really refer to nine classes of algorithms for tackling these nine computational tasks. Hopefully, this quick summary of the fascinating ideas to come has left you eager to dive in and find out how they really work. But you may still be wondering: what is the ultimate goal here? So let me make some brief remarks about the true purpose of this book.

It is definitely not a how-to manual. After reading the book, you won't be an expert on computer security or artificial intelligence or anything else. It's true that you may pick up some useful skills. For example: you'll be more aware of how to check the credentials of secure websites and signed software packages; you'll be able to choose judiciously between lossy and lossless compression for different tasks; and you may be able to use search engines more efficiently by understanding some aspects of their indexing and ranking techniques.

These, however, are relatively minor bonuses compared to the book's true objective. After reading the book, you won't be a vastly more skilled computer user.


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But you will have a much deeper appreciation of the beauty of the ideas you are constantly using, day in and day out, on all your computing devices. Why is this a good thing? Let me argue by analogy. I am definitely not an expert on astronomy—in fact, I'm rather ignorant on the topic and wish I knew more. But every time I glance at the night sky, the small amount of astronomy that I do know enhances my enjoyment of this experience. Somehow, my understanding of what I am looking at leads to a feeling of contentment and wonder. It is my fervent hope that after reading this book, you will occasionally achieve this same sense of contentment and wonder while using a computer.

You'll have a true appreciation of the most ubiquitous, inscrutable black box of our times: your personal computer, the genius at your fingertips. Now, Huck, where we're a-standing you could touch that hole I got out of with a fishing-pole. See if you can find it. Search engines have a profound effect on our lives. Most of us issue search queries many times a day, yet we rarely stop to wonder just how this remarkable tool can possibly work.