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Computers Ltd: What They Really Can't Do

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The computer has been hailed as the greatest innovation of the 20th century, and there is no denying that these technological marvels have dramatically changed our everyday lives. They can fly airplanes and spaceships, route millions of phone calls simultaneously, and play chess with the world's greatest players. But how limitless is the future for the computer? Will compu The computer has been hailed as the greatest innovation of the 20th century, and there is no denying that these technological marvels have dramatically changed our everyday lives. They can fly airplanes and spaceships, route millions of phone calls simultaneously, and play chess with the world's greatest players. But how limitless is the future for the computer? Will computers one day be truly intelligent, make medical diagnoses, run companies, compose music, and fall in love? In Computers Ltd., David Harel, the best-selling author of Algorithmics, illuminates one of the most fundamental yet under-reported facets of computers--their inherent limitations. Looking only at the bad news that is proven, discussing limitations that no amounts of hardware, software, talent, or resources can overcome, the book presents a disturbing and provocative view of computing at the start of the 21st century. Harel takes us on a fascinating tour that touches on everything from tiling problems and monkey puzzles to Monte Carlo algorithms and quantum computing, showing just how far from perfect computers are, while shattering some of the many claims made for these machines. He concludes that though we may strive for bigger and better things in computing, we need to be realistic: computers are not omnipotent--far from it. Their limits are real and here to stay. Based on hard facts, mathematically proven and indisputable, Computers Ltd. offers a vividly written and often amusing look at the shape of the future.


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The computer has been hailed as the greatest innovation of the 20th century, and there is no denying that these technological marvels have dramatically changed our everyday lives. They can fly airplanes and spaceships, route millions of phone calls simultaneously, and play chess with the world's greatest players. But how limitless is the future for the computer? Will compu The computer has been hailed as the greatest innovation of the 20th century, and there is no denying that these technological marvels have dramatically changed our everyday lives. They can fly airplanes and spaceships, route millions of phone calls simultaneously, and play chess with the world's greatest players. But how limitless is the future for the computer? Will computers one day be truly intelligent, make medical diagnoses, run companies, compose music, and fall in love? In Computers Ltd., David Harel, the best-selling author of Algorithmics, illuminates one of the most fundamental yet under-reported facets of computers--their inherent limitations. Looking only at the bad news that is proven, discussing limitations that no amounts of hardware, software, talent, or resources can overcome, the book presents a disturbing and provocative view of computing at the start of the 21st century. Harel takes us on a fascinating tour that touches on everything from tiling problems and monkey puzzles to Monte Carlo algorithms and quantum computing, showing just how far from perfect computers are, while shattering some of the many claims made for these machines. He concludes that though we may strive for bigger and better things in computing, we need to be realistic: computers are not omnipotent--far from it. Their limits are real and here to stay. Based on hard facts, mathematically proven and indisputable, Computers Ltd. offers a vividly written and often amusing look at the shape of the future.

30 review for Computers Ltd: What They Really Can't Do

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shriya

    I think people who have never programmed will be quite lost in the middle of it as the author discusses Big O and time complexity, but it was still really wonderful to revisit CS concepts and see them nicely tied together. Later chapters on cryptography and AI were less technical (and more fun, haha). Definitely revisiting this once I've reviewed more of the core concepts.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Robert Dormer

    This book is perfect for smart folks seeking an intro to computational complexity theory, and to people who already have a background in it from years past and who are looking to refresh their memory. For those who've already studied the subject before, the introductory material and a few parts here and there will drag on. In particular, the first two chapters get a bit repetitive at times - we get it, it doesn't matter how fast you make your computer if the problem is inherently intractable. We This book is perfect for smart folks seeking an intro to computational complexity theory, and to people who already have a background in it from years past and who are looking to refresh their memory. For those who've already studied the subject before, the introductory material and a few parts here and there will drag on. In particular, the first two chapters get a bit repetitive at times - we get it, it doesn't matter how fast you make your computer if the problem is inherently intractable. We got it the first time you mentioned it! On the whole, though, the pluses far outweigh the negatives, and even people who've been through an undergrad degree will find things that they might not have covered. I don't recall covering Rice's theorem, Computational Equivalence, or zero knowledge protocols in school, for instance. It's a slim book too, weighing in at just over two hundred pages, and the author manages to cram a surprising amount into them, without glossing over too much or going into too much detail, which makes it a pretty quick read. All in all, if you're interested in the field, then this book is definitely worth an investment of your time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chege

    This robot stands dizzied by the cars and trucks passing by, and waiting for the situation to stabilize so that it can use it's deep and contemplative deduction abilities to devise a plan for crossing. This one-legged pogo-stick robot is in the midst of traffic, frantically jumping up and down, to and fro, again and again barely avoiding getting hit, but making no progress whatsoever towards the other side. Many of these gallant and loyal robots are waiting on the side, to be sent out to try agai This robot stands dizzied by the cars and trucks passing by, and waiting for the situation to stabilize so that it can use it's deep and contemplative deduction abilities to devise a plan for crossing. This one-legged pogo-stick robot is in the midst of traffic, frantically jumping up and down, to and fro, again and again barely avoiding getting hit, but making no progress whatsoever towards the other side. Many of these gallant and loyal robots are waiting on the side, to be sent out to try again, one after the other, just like the infantry charging out of their trenches in WWI. The fourth robot sits at the side of the road, nods slowly and says, "Yes, I know; and that reminds me of another story…"

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marco

    A good introduction to the achievements and limits of the Theory of Computation. It tries to be accessible to lay people, and seems to reach that objective without sacrificing much in terms of precision.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    A great way to learn about complexity theory.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Text for LIS452 Fall 2007

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jen Logan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paolo Cordone

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gary

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brent

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yalush

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

  15. 5 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  16. 4 out of 5

    Melvin Zhang

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Barr

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julian Rombach

  21. 4 out of 5

    Talasila

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stefano Ottolenghi

  23. 5 out of 5

    Evan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adina

  26. 4 out of 5

    Berndt Müller

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert St.Amant

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sam Wong

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

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