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Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Math Less Traveled
Financial World
NY Journal of Books

John MacCormick

Nine algorithms that changed the future

In 9 Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers John MacCormick sets out to give readers an inkling of the workings of the algorithms driving todays computers and the internet, without requiring prior knowledge of programming or computer science.

The chapter on public key cryptography is very successful in this, in that it shows the reader how to implement a simple version of the algorithm 'by hand'. The chapters on error correcting codes and on data compression are similarly successful, and the last chapter gives an accessible proof of the impossibility of writing a program able to predict when a given program will crash. I thought that the other chapters were less successful. Those on search engine indexing, pattern recognition, and databases are interesting enough, but not likely to make the reader think 'So that's how it works!'. That on digital signatures is too similar to that on public key cryptography, and I felt that the one on Google's PageRank really needed to mention matrices and eigenvalues to give any real indication of how it works.

Overall I felt that it was worth reading, in that it gives a readable account of some of the important algorithms we encounter, but that some of the chapters lacked depth.

Product Description

Every day, we use our computers to perform remarkable feats. A simple web search picks out a handful of relevant needles from the world's biggest haystack: the billions of pages on the World Wide Web. Uploading a photo to Facebook transmits millions of pieces of information over numerous error-prone network links, yet somehow a perfect copy of the photo arrives intact. Without even knowing it, we use public-key cryptography to transmit secret information like credit card numbers; and we use digital signatures to verify the identity of the websites we visit. How do our computers perform these tasks with such ease?

This is the first book to answer that question in language anyone can understand, revealing the extraordinary ideas that power our PCs, laptops, and smartphones. Using vivid examples, John MacCormick explains the fundamental "tricks" behind nine types of computer algorithms, including artificial intelligence (where we learn about the "nearest neighbor trick" and "twenty questions trick"), Google's famous PageRank algorithm (which uses the "random surfer trick"), data compression, error correction, and much more.

These revolutionary algorithms have changed our world: this book unlocks their secrets, and lays bare the incredible ideas that our computers use every day.