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

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465025961
ISBN-10: 046502596X
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Hillis holds some forty patents, sits on the scientific advisory board of the Santa Fe Institute, and is a fellow of the Association of Computing. His many awards include the Hopper Award, the Spirit of American Creativity Award, and the Ramanujan Award. Hillis was named the first Disney Fellow and became vice president of research and development at the Walt Disney Company in 1996.
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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: 9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant book I wish I had discovered years ago. Hillis starts at the very fundamentals of computing and rapidly builds up to talking about neural networks, genetic algorithms and his ideas on how to build general artificial intelligence, all in about 150 pages of easy and engaging reading. I'm a slow reader, yet I was able to move quickly through this book, which reads more like a long magazine piece than a book. I have familiarity with the material, so that may be a bit of an advantage, but I don't feel like I have a deep, strong connection with the material, which is why I picked up this book. I finished the book with a stronger understanding of logic gates, public key encryption, parity, error correction and other computing fundamentals, and in a more intimate and personal way. He also goes a bit into parallel computing, and gives a compelling example highlighting ways you can overcome some of the perceived (at least 20 years ago) limitations of parallel computing. That's really the only outdated element of the book - that, and the fact that the internet is barely mentioned, but it doesn't detract from or discount anything he puts forward in the book. On the contrary, what he covers and how he does so reinforces his brilliance and his foresight in choosing these particular elements as fundamental to computing, regardless of the medium or paradigm. Highly recommended for anyone interested in high-level conceptual grounding of some of the practical elements of computer science, or anyone looking for a slightly different angle on computer science concepts in order to increase their direct experience or personal relationship with it.
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