- Paperback: 353 pages
- Publisher: Copernicus; 2012 edition (May 23, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 364228101X
- ISBN-13: 978-3642281013
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Universal Machine: From the Dawn of Computing to Digital Consciousness 2012th Edition
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From the reviews:
Selected by Computing Reviews as one of the Best Reviews & Notable Books of 2013
“The Universal Machine follows the development of computers, as it says in the subtitle, ‘From the dawn of computing to digital consciousness.’ … On the whole, the historical content was at just the right level – enough to keep you interested without getting overwhelmed. … The Universal Machine is a great way to get a real feel for where the machines that are at the centre of so many of our lives came from.” (Brain Clegg, Popular Science, June, 2012)
“An interesting and reasonably priced book, which concentrates on some of the people (from Ada to Zuse), companies (from Apple to Xerox) and machines (from the Acorn to the Z1) that have contributed to computer development. … The book contains plenty of references … as well as a ‘Further Reading’ section. … it appeals to a wide audience, and at over 350 pages there is something in here for anyone who has the vaguest interest in a history of computers including the internet … .” (Mike Rees, BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, August, 2012)
“This book starts with Charles Babbage and ends with the US military’s latest Reaper drones, tracing a fascinating history of the development of computers and computer science from the Regency and Victorian eras to the present day. … it’s accessible and readable even to non-geeky types, written as it is in an easy-going and engaging style. … it’s also an enjoyable read for hard-core techies: you’ll almost certainly keep running into computers and engineers you haven’t heard of before.” (Paul Ducklin, Naked Security, August, 2012)
“Watson … traces the history of computing from Babbage’s difference engine to the monolithic computers of the 1950s, to PCs and Macs, to mobile technology. … The work is heavily illustrated with … photographs of people, machines, and simple diagrams. … structured as an encyclopedia with brief essays of up to 2,000 words on topics arranged thematically into 14 chapters. … provides an easily accessible big picture of computing history that is both comprehensive and introductory. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers.” (S. M. Frey, Choice, Vol. 50 (7), March, 2013)
From the Author
I passionately believe that the computer is like no other invention in human history. As Alan Turing, its inventor, realized in the 1930s, the computer is a Universal Machine - capable of doing any task for which it is programed. I thought I knew the history of computing when I started writing this book, but I learnt so much in the process and got to know some really fascinating people along the way. I therefore invite you to take the plunge and learn more about the history of computing and the people that made it possible.
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Top Customer Reviews
The books opens with a fascinating chapter about the first steampunk, Charles Babbage, and his failed attempts to build a mechanical computer. Much of this story was new to me and very interesting. A short chapter follows that has lots of fascinating details, not about computers, but early business machines that have influenced our computers and in several cases gave rise to modern companies like IBM.
Chapter 4 is really the heart of the book telling the tragic story of the English genius Alan Turing. He invented the concept of the "universal machine," and the author doesn't avoid presenting some complex mathematical ideas here. However, he does so in a very approachable and easy to understand way and I found myself understanding what a Turing machine was for the first time and why this is the idea at the heart of the computer. Turing's work code breaking during WWII is described in detail, as his subsequent appalling treatment by the British after the war.
I recently tried to read Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson, which in contrast to this book I found boring and very hard to read. This book covers some of the same material but in a much more entertaining and approachable way. Some years ago I tried to read Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, which I'd heard was the definitive biography of Turing. But again, 600+ pages and far to much math for me. The Universal Machine told me more in one chapter than I got from struggling half way through Hodges book.
The chapter about the first computers after WWII was fascinating as was the subsequent one on Silicon Valley in the 60s and early 70s. The author's enthusiasm for the subject really takes off here and I actually couldn't put the book down.
The next chapters cover material I thought I was fairly familiar with, the birth of the PC, Apple, Microsoft, the world wide web, but I learnt heaps of new stuff. The biography of Apple's co-founder, Steve Wozniak, was very interesting. The recent issues with the Facebook IPO were brought well into context with some interesting accounts of some of the most influential dotcom companies and of the dotcom bubble.
There's then a whole chapter dedicated to Steve Jobs and Apple, which was perhaps a little too long but then again people are really interested in him. Again I wasn't aware of some information and people who dis Jobs for being "just a salesman" should read the stuff about NeXT here. Clearly Jobs had a deep understanding of computing.
I didn't expect a book about computer to have a chapter that opens with a description of the terrible unrest in Syria. The chapter about social media uses the Syrian uprising to illustrate how we can all become publishers and citizen journalists. However, this chapter also deals with issues of trust and dangerous phenomena called the filter bubble. There's a good biography of Facebook's Zuckerberg along with information about YouTube, twitter, blogging and Wikipedia.
The next chapter on hacking was fascinating. Again very topically the Stuxnet worm opens the chapter but it then goes back to look at the history of hacking from phone phreakers and the early innocent days to the 80s & 90s and today's state sponsored cyber warfare. There's some scary stuff in this chapter.
The last two chapters are all about the future and are a great strength of this book. The author is a professor of artificial intelligence (I did a background check) so he knows what he's talking about, but he doesn't just paint a rosy glowing picture of the future either. The book returns to talk about Alan Turing and his now famous Turing Test for machine intelligence, but it's also careful to be balanced. For example driverless cars may greatly reduce traffic casualties (I had no idea there were so many) but what about all the people who drive for a living - their jobs could be gone soon.
Things like quantum computing are discussed (still not sure I understand that) and projects to reengineer the brain are used to illustrate that one day we might be able to fuse our minds with computers. I got the strong impression though that the author doesn't believe this will happen anytime soon.
At the end of the book is an excellent section of further reading and a clever little piece that updates where each of the book's characters are now, since many are still living.
I think you can tell that I really enjoyed this book. It's very informative, well written and very easy to read. I look at my computer now in a whole new light. 5 stars.
Although the two page (80-82) summary on Zuse isn't long, it is accurate and detailed. I mean, who else would try to build a 30,000 part computer in a barn in Nazi occupied Germany? Not many figured out the genius of this man, from computing to cellular automata, but Siemens obviously did (they bought him out before he passed on in 1995).
Does anyone know how this fine book can be under $5 with free Prime shipping at nearly 400 packed pages? I know, I've got to be dreaming-- somebody unplug the link.
Wow, even at text prices it's worth it, here, it's a steal! It is "Dover" priced yet contains CURRENT information-- the "history" goes back to the Middle Ages, but brings us right up to everything from dedicated embedded to universal multis and beyond. NOT a dry read-- fun, carries the reader along, and if you've got a few years behind you as I do, will elicit a smile at where we've been as well as where we're going. After all, there really was no web in 1985, so many people alive today saw nearly the entire evolution of the modern computer age!
In that context, it's great to see the "seeds" going way back, as well as Tron and the Matrix. Zuse's first machine was perfect and correct, but didn't work because the milling and machining sciences were not developed enough for the precision required. (We know this because it WAS later built just to see, and worked!). Like the guy who wrote "I, Pencil" (no, not robot) to show that it takes thousands of brilliant technologies to make a pencil, we take a LOT for granted in what we see today in computing. This awesome book adds back the wonder.
Highly recommended even as a plane trip or late night substitute for your favorite novelist. Some of the info really is eye opening, as in, "Did you know that..." with your friends on Facebook.
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