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The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible Hardcover – March 31, 2013
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*Starred Review* In 1956, mathematician Kurt Gödel wrote to computer scientist John von Neumann speculating about how “the mental work of a mathematician . . . could be completely replaced by a machine.” In Gödel’s speculation, Fortnow finds the kernel of what may be the most important mathematical problem of all time. That as-yet-unsolved problem—identified by mathematicians as the P-NP problem—raises fundamental questions about just how far society can ride the technological wave triggered by the computer revolution. Fortnow unfolds a fascinating dual-track story of how this problem first emerged, Western researchers encountering it while trying to maximize computer efficiency, Russian analysts confronting it while puzzling over the persistent need for perebor (“brute force search”). Readers watch as the P-NP problem attracts investigators in cryptography, biology, quantum physics, and social networking—and frustrates them all. Fortnow allows nonspecialist readers to glimpse the conceptual difficulties here (try “nondeterministic polynomial time,” for example). But he mercifully frames his discussion largely in nontechnical terms. Even readers averse to mathematics will share in the intellectual stimulation of pondering a riddle compelling us to ask what we should hope for—and fear—in replacing human brains with computer algorithms. A provocative reminder of the real-world consequences of a theoretical enigma. --Bryce Christensen
One of Amazon.com’s 2013 Best Science Books
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013
Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in Popular Science & Mathematics, Association of American Publishers
As Fortnow describes. . . P versus NP is ‘one of the great open problems in all of mathematics' not only because it is extremely difficult to solve but because it has such obvious practical applications. It is the dream of total ease, of the confidence that there is an efficient way to calculate nearly everything, ‘from cures to deadly diseases to the nature of the universe,' even ‘an algorithmic process to recognize greatness.'. . . To postulate that P ≠ NP, as Fortnow does, is to allow for a world of mystery, difficulty, and frustration--but also of discovery and inquiry, of pleasures pleasingly delayed.---Alexander Nazaryan, New Yorker
Fortnow effectively initiates readers into the seductive mystery and importance of P and NP problems. (Publishers Weekly)
Fortnow's book is just the ticket for bringing one of the major theoretical problems of our time to the level of the average citizen--and yes, that includes elected officials.---Veit Elser, Science
Without bringing formulas or computer code into the narrative, Fortnow sketches the history of this class of questions, convincingly demonstrates their surprising equivalence, and reveals some of the most far-reaching implications that a proof of P = NP would bring about. These might include tremendous advances in biotechnology (for instance, more cures for cancer), information technology, and even the arts. Verdict: Through story and analogy, this relatively slim volume manages to provide a thorough, accessible explanation of a deep mathematical question and its myriad consequences. An engaging, informative read for a broad audience.---J.J.S. Boyce, Library Journal
A provocative reminder of the real-world consequences of a theoretical enigma. (Booklist)
The definition of this problem is tricky and technical, but in The Golden Ticket, Lance Fortnow cleverly sidesteps the issue with a boiled-down version. P is the collection of problems we can solve quickly, NP is the collection of problems we would like to solve. If P = NP, computers can answer all the questions we pose and our world is changed forever. It is an oversimplification, but Fortnow, a computer scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, knows his stuff and aptly illustrates why NP problems are so important.---Jacob Aron, New Scientist
Fortnow's book does a fine job of showing why the tantalizing question is an important one, with implications far beyond just computer science.---Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch
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The footnote on page 111 is my favorite footnote ever.
Given my background, I wouldn't mind (for the Second Edition?) a 2- or 3-page appendix with a Wikipedia type of entry about the technical details, so I could remind myself and ruminate more deeply without interrupting my transcendental state by running back to an actual computer screen, but that is hardly a criticism of the book, given its purpose.
My work is in machine learning (aka, predictive analytics), and the author touches upon how P/NP relates to my field; tantalizing food for thought. Machine learning is not just optimization, though; beyond optimizing over a training data set, you need to ensure it then continues to perform well over data not used to optimize it. Hmm, how does this play out if P=NP?
Eric Siegel, Ph.D.
Founder, Predictive Analytics World
Author, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die
There is an intellectual cost to the immediate accessibility of this book: for example, P and NP are never really formally defined. If you would like to *work* on P versus NP, or (less ambitiously) are looking for a technical overview of the problem, there are many available books to recommend such as Scott Aaronson's new Quantum Computing since Democritus or Sipser's classic textbook Introduction to the Theory of Computation. However, if you're just looking for a high-level explanation of why P versus NP is so important, Fortnow's book is a great place to start.
This is a book that needed to be written and needs to be on everyone's bookshelf, particularly for those asking questions like "what is mathematics" or "what is mathematics used for". This book answers those questions, and towards the end gives examples (in plain English) of the different branches of mathematics and theoretical computer science, without making it read like a text book.
1.It was interesting enough to read straight through.
2.I thought the author did a nice job balancing making it technical enough, but not too much, for the intended audience, an intelligent reader interested in the subject, but not wanting to be overwhelmed with technical items.
3.It cost less that $10.00 (Kindle).