Saturday, November 08, 2014

A Journey through a revolution ...

From Cambridge University Press, Computing Universe by Tony Hey and Gyuri Papay was just released this week and I have been leafing through a digital version of its pages which are “intended to be intelligible to both high school and first year university students and to stimulate their interest in the wide range of opportunities of a career in computer science.”  The book covers developments related to computers from the 1930’s to the present day and includes discussion of topics like semiconductors, the rise of robots and computer games. 

As I started reading, I thought of my review of Innovators by Isaacson and although that book covers a much bigger time period, both titles focus on pioneers like Alan Turing.  And with The Imitation Game movie coming soon, there seems to be plenty of general interest.  Authors Hey and Papay make frequent reference to [Gordon] Moore’s law, lectures and contests from Richard Feynman, and predictions from Michio Kaku which will hopefully promote exploration of and greater familiarity with work by those distinguished scientists.  I also enjoyed the section explaining how algorithms were developed for IBM’s Watson, the eventual Jeopardy! champion.

Computing Universe includes plenty of pictures, but still seems a bit “dry” and “textbook-ish” overall.  I am wondering why publishers are not building more links and interactive elements into their books, especially on a subject such as this one; certainly, that would increase the appeal for their intended audience.

For example, Maria Popova at Brain Pickings created a terrific visual review  (check out #27 about Hedy Lamarr’s contribution to wifi type communication; who knew?!) of 100 Ideas that Changed the Web by Jim Boulton.  Or look into The Gentleman who made Scholar and be sure to investigate 12 Lesser-known Google Projects that are Absolutely Amazing.

A favorite quote found in Computing Universe is “every 30 years there is a new wave of things that computers do.  Around 1950, they began to model events in the world (simulation) and around 1980 to connect people (communication). Since 2010, they have begun to engage with the physical world in a non-trivial way (embodiment).”  I look forward to a future edition of Computing Universe filled with engaging, interactive elements.