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The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work (Science Masters)

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ISBN-13: 978-0465025961
ISBN-10: 046502596X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Daniel Hillis has made a career of puzzling over the nature of information and the mechanisms that put information to use. Now, he's distilled his accumulated knowledge of computer science into The Pattern on the Stone, a glorious book that reveals the nature of logical machines simply and elegantly.

Millions of times each second, to the drumbeat of a clock signal, electronic computers compare digital values. These comparisons, and the actions taken in response to them, are what computers are all about at their lowest levels, and, with the help of this book, they're not hard to comprehend. Moving on from the nature of logical circuits, the author deconstructs software and the mechanisms it employs to solve problems.

Hillis then stands atop the building blocks he's arranged into a sturdy foundation and discusses the future of computing. Parallel processors already are in use, and neural networks with limited abilities to learn and adapt have proved quite good at certain jobs. Hillis explores the potential of both these technologies. Then, he throws some light on quantum computing and evolving systems--emerging ideas that promise to make computers much more powerful, and thereby change the world. --David Wall --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Most introductions to computers either take the reader on a mathematical journey through the workings of computer architecture and Boolean logic or introduce them to a particular program or product. Hillis, an innovative computer engineer, tries a different approach by explaining the basic concepts of the computer in everyday language. Everyone has sorted socks and played tic-tac-toe. Hillis uses these simple examples and similar everyday experiences to explain the ideas that make computers work. He takes the reader step-by-step from computer logic to programming to memory and compression. The final two chapters show how computers are truly close to being thinking machines. Highly recommended for anyone studying computer science or electrical engineering, this book is also a good read for anyone who wants a better understanding of how computers work.?William Baer, Brigham Young Univ. Lib., Provo, UT
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Science Masters
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502596X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465025961
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rutkowski on August 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this book, Hillis has managed to cover all of the basics of how computers operate, from theory like Boolean algebra and finite state machines, up to applications of the theory like multiprocessors and their limits. He even manages to find space to discuss Turing's Halting Problem, and Godel's Incompleteness Theorem.
To fit so much information into such a small book, Hillis has minimised his explanations, to the point that I think a true newcomer to these concepts would have difficulty in following a lot of the details. The text has been designed so that not understanding parts of it will not greatly affect the understanding of the rest, however I believe the reader would have much less appreciation for how all of the ideas mesh together in this case.
Hillis has crafted a beautiful book, one that provides excellent insight into the workings of computer technology, and a slightly different approach to that taken by standard textbooks. While I don't think this book would serve as a substitute to a standard text, it makes an excellent companion book for anyone who is already partly familiar with the concepts covered.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Boris S on July 29, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I believe the title is a bit misleading. If you want to buy this book to learn how computers work, STOP! and buy "Code: Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software" By Charles Petzold. (Because of the title/quotes on the book which suggested that this book will teach you "How Computers Work"... I gave it 4 stars--I almost made it 3! :) This book will cover how computers work only in the first two chapters.. and it covers the subject so abstractly and briefly--with a lot of gaps--that if you don't already know how it works, you probably will have a VERY hard time understanding...
Now, to the good stuff... this book is a GREAT intro for someone who has some fundamentals in CS, but would like to explore it a bit more.. or get interesting ideas--especially in the department of Artificial Intelligence.
Remmember one thing... althought it's meant to be a book for "newbies"... it really isn't... some of the concepts/terminology is complex... but as a whole it's a simple short book. To me it seems VERY simple because I already read a lot of books dealing with all this stuff beforehand... but I would imagine someone who hasn't had a lot of exposure may want to at the very least read CODE (as I've already stated). You will learn a lot from CODE! (BTW, I just read this book in about two days, after finishing CODE... so that can attest to it's simplicity... not too much depth.. but a nice intro to CS with a concentration on AI).
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Danny Hillis is known for his child-like approach to things. This book is a good example. I think it's a definate must read for the computer neophyte of any age (I'm buying several for people ranging from a teenager to my father-in-law). He introduces the *real* workings behind computers. Forget about RAM, bits, bytes and all that. Think about information flowing like water and computation performed with little gears. The long-term computer lover will find this book a quick, light, but thouroughly enjoyable read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By An Amazonian on January 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I took a one-year intensive detour into computer programming with the idea of becoming a programmer. The single best thing I got out of it was an acquaintance with this book. It is very short and perfectly clear, yet it is also the deepest reflection on computers I know of. I'm not alone in thinking this--writing in the eminent magazine New Scientist, the reviewer Peter Thomas called it "The best book on computers I have ever read." It seems quite fitting that in looking through others' reviews of this book I found it pressed eagerly both on complete novices and on computer science majors; it's that kind of book, profoundly simple.
The idea of the last chapter, Beyond Engineering, is one of the most exciting ones I've ever heard: let me summarize it briefly to entice you. Hillis thinks that we may not be able to design a true artificial intelligence because we may not ever be able to understand how our own decentralized brains work. (An artificial intelligence is a computer with a consciousness like a person's, like HAL in "2001".) Yet he thinks we can still create an artificial intelligence by simulating evolution--by imitating the same process that created us! We may be able to "breed" computers as smart as human beings without ever having to understand how we, or they, achieve the miracle of consciousness.
In the computer world, that's the kind of idea they call "sexy".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Wetterling on January 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Hillis has a unique view of technology that many have called "child-like". In his writing, there comes through not only a deep understanding of the subject, but also a genuine interest and excitment. And the best part? Its contagious.
I've been a computer science major for several years, and, after reading this book, I realized that I'd forgotten why I first chose this profession. This book reminded me about how much fun, how interesting, and how varied working (playing?) with technology can be. Thank you Mr. Hillis!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Lamb on May 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Hillis has a way of writing that is both educational and entertaining. I had taken this book out of the library at least a half-dozen times, so many in fact that my wife suggested I just buy the darned thing (I had a enough late charges to pay for it at least once!) It is easy to read, engaging, and really does get to the heart of what a computer is and how it works in a manner that even my eight year old daughter could work with. Good work Mr. Hillis!
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