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Giant brains; or, Machines that think Hardcover – 1949


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 6th Printing edition (1949)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006AS6Q4
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,650,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By calvinnme HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was both a primer and a manifesto in its time. In language that managed the delicate trick of being exquisitely clear and uncompromisingly evangelistic, Berkeley described how a computer works, step by step, instruction by instruction. Employing numerous diagrams, and painstakingly explaining every underlying concept (like "binary" or "register" or "input/output") as if it had never been explained before, Berkeley demonstrated how it was possible to move digital information from one "place" to another -- and how a set of on/off switches, if wired correctly, could perform operations on that information, handling such extraordinary feats as the addition of two plus two.

Berkeley walked the walk. He built his own computer, Simon, considered by some historians to be the first "personal computer," and documented the process in a series of 13 articles for Radio Electronics magazine and also in this book. Simon was so simple and so small in fact that it could be built to fill up only four cubic feet, cost less than $1000, could be carried in one hand, and was expandable. It may seem that a simple model of a mechanical brain like Simon was of no great practical use. On the contrary, Simon had the same use in instruction as a set of simple chemical experiments had: to stimulate thinking and understanding, and to produce training and skill. By 1959, over 400 Simon plans had been sold. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a very clear description of the world's first personal computer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Acute Observer on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This 1949 book introduced the public to "mechanical brains". Edmund C. Berkeley wrote a book that every one can read. [A "computer" then was the person who used a slide-rule or other computational device.] Berkeley graduated from Harvard College in 1930, became an actuary for a life insurance company, served in the USNR at the Harvard Computation Laboratory and worked on the Aiken Mark II Relay Calculator. Later he was part of the team that bought the UNIVAC, a large-scale automatic computer. Since 1948 he operated his own consulting business handling information and computing.

The 'Preface' says the use of mechanical brains is as great an advance as printing over writing for labor savings (p.vii). He will compare four of these machines. You don't have to read the entire book, only what seems interesting. You could skip some sections (p.viii). Chapter 1 explains these machines are similar to what a brain would be if it were hardware instead of flesh and nerves. Thinking in the human brain is done by storing information and then referencing to it by learning and remembering (p.2). Nerve cells operate like a relay or on-off switch (p.3). The behavior that is thinking can be done by a machine; it is defined on page 5. But they can't do certain things which wild animals can (p.8). Machines excel in processing numbers and solving problems that could not be done by humans. Berkeley suggests that in the future computers will know what is in libraries and tell you where to find certain information (p.9).

The abacus was the first calculating machine and is used all over Asia (p.19). Modern calculating machines are the dial telephone and the fire-control instrument to control a gun (p.19). Chapter 3 describes a simple relay computer.
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