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.
"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
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1. Introduction: What Are the Extraordinary Ideas Computers Use Every Day? 1
Chapter 2. Search Engine Indexing: Finding Needles in the World’s Biggest Haystack 10
Chapter 3. PageRank: The Technology That Launched Google 24
Chapter 4. Public Key Cryptography: Sending Secrets on a Postcard 38
Chapter 5. Error-Correcting Codes: Mistakes That Fix Themselves 60
Chapter 6. Pattern Recognition: Learning from Experience 80
Chapter 7. Data Compression: Something for Nothing 105
Chapter 8. Databases: The Quest for Consistency 122
Chapter 9. Digital Signatures: Who Really Wrote This Software? 149
Chapter 10. What Is Computable? 174
Chapter 11. Conclusion: More Genius at Your Fingertips? 199
Sources and Further Reading 207
This book has been translated into: