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

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

by David Berlinski
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The Advent of the Algorithm: The Idea that Rules the World by David Berlinski

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780151003389
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/01/2000
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

David Berlinski is the author of three novels and four works of nonfiction, including the bestselling A Tour of the Calculus . Berlinski received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and is a regular contributor to Commentary and Forbes ASAP . He lives in Paris.

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The Advent of the Algorithm: The Idea That Rules the World 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Matthew7777 More than 1 year ago
Algorithms are a very difficult topic to understand, but David Berlinski explains it brilliantly.  Few people really understand the impact of algorithms on the world, but this book enables a much deeper understanding of the importance of algorithms without even needing a knowledge of complicated math as a prerequisite.  Berlinski connects algorithms to the greater world of mathematics and is able to offer a much deeper understanding of the inner workings of mathematics through algorithms.  He also keeps the text interesting and writes in a way more reminiscent of a novel than a textbook.  While Berlinski does often write in an overly exaggerated manner that can detract from his ideas, on the whole his literary style serves to make a generally dense topic more interesting.  Additionally, the book jumps around more than it probably should, changing from complex math to Greek myths.  Even so, Berlinski should be commended for his ability to explain many of the more complex mathematical topics necessary for understanding algorithms in the most painless way possible.  The most fascinating part of the book are Berlinski’s surprising connections of algorithms to seemingly unrelated parts of society.  While he does not dwell on the definition of an algorithm, he does explain that an algorithm is finite procedure that is controlled by precise instructions and moves in discrete steps.  He then goes on to unexpectedly, but justifiable say that the execution of an algorithm requires no intelligence, cleverness, or intuition.  He makes obvious connections of algorithms to the world of computing, but also connects algorithms to the makeup of life and the universe.  He ends with his most shocking and controversial argument that relates algorithms to the future development of science, but that will not be spoiled now as the whole book seems to lead up to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Berlinski¿s, The Advent of the Algorithm, is one of the most undervalued pieces of writing I have ever seen. Filled with understanding and insight, it is sweet relief for the mathematical layman.
I was given a copy of it as a Christmas present and it has helped me to understand things which I thought I would go to my grave with never so much as a glimpse. Unlike the great majority of `understand-it-yourself¿ math books¿which deluge the reader with an unrelieved monsoon of arcane concepts, the Advent of the Algorithm informs the reader. With patience and more than a little kindness, Berlinski¿s insightful approach gives the reader a good foothold into the nature and importance of one of the pillars of western reasoning, and it is a perfect book for those of us whose chests tightened on the last-mile walk to an algebra class. Berlinski teaches us to breathe. By interspersing clearly elucidated ideas with history, biography, humor and good storytelling, Berlinski soothes and cools the mathematical experience. He is an attentive lover of literary writers, like Vladimir Nabokov, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jorge Borges¿men whose works and styles he often approximates quite decently¿using work styled after theirs to offer insight into the structures he presents to the reader. The Advent of the Algorithm is not a book for PhD¿s in Quantum Physics, or graduate students of Ring Theory. If you are burning with mathematical talent and are perfectly comfortable with the Calculus, the book is not for you and it will bring nothing to you. If, however, you are just someone, an intelligent man or woman who has always hated the impassable wall between yourself and mathematical understanding, The Advent of the Algorithm is a real treasure. A good, and wonderfully decent introduction to concepts in mathematical logic and their implications for philosophy, The Advent of the Algorithm is a book for the rest of us; one for those of us who sat through math classes and felt everything but hope.
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Berlinski has delivered another fascinating tale of a subject understood by relatively few. This book will allow the algorithm to become a topic of educated conversation outside the circles of mathematicians and computer scientists. The text preserves all of Berlinski's florid, idiosyncratic and sometimes difficult style, shifting between careful analysis, historical drama, insightful explanation, and obscure fictional aside. Readers will either love it or hate it. (I love it.) Unfortunately, some readers will misunderstand Berlinski's subtlety and insight. For instance, the official trade review of the book complains that Berlinski never really defines 'algorithm.' This is incorrect. The introduction concludes with an offset definition: 'In the logician's voice: an algorithm is a finite procedure, written in a fixed symbolic vocabulary, governed by precise instructions, moving in discrete steps, 1, 2, 3,..., whose execution requires no insight, cleverness, intuition, intelligence, or perspicuity, and that sooner or later comes to an end.' It doesn't get much clearer than that. But Berlinski doesn't ponder long over what he takes to be obvious, and he doesn't always speak in the logician's voice. The Advent of the Algorithm demonstrates that a seemingly dull concept can have unimaginably profound implications. Those implications illuminate everything from computing and information technology to the nature of life and the universe. And ultimately (not to spoil the ending) Berlinski argues that the advent of the algorithm foretells the end of scientific materialism, suggesting nothing so much as a world permeated by the marks of intelligence and design. To paraphrase, we are shocked to discover information--something we had assumed was found exclusively in the domain of human activity--flourishing on the alien shores of biology.