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Computers Ltd: What They Really Can't Do [Anglais] [Relié]

David Harel


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Revue de presse

Computers Ltd is a gripping book (Cern Courier)

a clear and friendly book (The Guardian)

Review from previous edition This book is a veritable tour de force. Harel writes with uncommon verve, clarity, and imagination . . . This is science writing at its best. (Times Higher Education Supplement)

This is the book I would most like to have written. (Prof. Darrell Ince, Open University)

Thank heavens . . . for David Harel's book on the theoretical limitations of computers . . . the insights Computers Ltd. provides are of an unusually enduring and worthwhile nature. (The Economist, 30 Sept. 2000)

The best short introduction to the things that computers can, can't, might, and could, eventually, do. (John D. Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge University, and author of 'Impossibility' and the forthcoming 'Book of Nothing')

An enlightening and entertaining explanation, written by a profound computer scientist and master expositor. A must read for inquisitive minds. (Michael Rabin, Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Présentation de l'éditeur

Computers are incredible. They are one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, dramatically and irrevocably changing the way we live. That is the good news. The bad news is that there are still major limitations to computers, serious problems that not even the most powerful computers can solve. The consequences of such limitations can be serious. Too often these limits get overlooked, in the quest for bigger, better, and more powerful computers. In Computers Ltd., David Harel, best-selling author of Algorithmics, explains and illustrates one of the most fundamental, yet under-exposed facets of computers - their inherent limitations. Looking at the bad news that is proven, lasting and robust, discussing limitations that no amounts of hardware, software, talents or resources can overcome, the book presents a disturbing and provocative view of computing at the start of the 21st century. Along the way he shows just how far from perfect computers are, while shattering some of the many claims made for these machines. Though we may strive for bigger and better things in computing, we need to be realistic: computers are not omnipotent - far from it. Moreover, the problem is real and here to stay. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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Première phrase
Computers are amazing. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  5 commentaires
34 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A limited introduction to the limits of Computation 9 novembre 2001
Par Optimistix - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This another nice book from David Harel, the author of the delightful
'Algorithmics : the spirit of Computer Science', which introduces the
general reader to the limits of computation (and hence the limits of
what computers can do).
Harel, who's a renowned figure in the field of Theoretical Computer Science,
has the ability to write and explain in a way that makes things seem
wonderfully clear, and indeed it is only such authors who can write good
books for the general reader.
This small (240 pages) book is quite ambitious in its coverage of topics -
starting off with the notion of an algorithm, it goes on to discuss
Efficiency and correctness, Turing machines, Finite state machines,
Decidability, Computability, Complexity, NP-completeness, Recursion,
Parallel algorithms, Probabilistic algorithms, and even touches upon
Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence !!
All this is done with almost no mathematics, at least hardly any beyond
high-school level. The reader is gently introduced to some of the most
celebrated problems of Computer Science, and he/she can get a feel of
the nature of this exciting and interesting field.
Throughout the book, the author keeps underscoring the fact that no matter
how far technology progresses, there'll always be problems that we can't
solve cheaply, or can't solve at all, or can't ever know whether they
can be solved or not (!!), ie he stresses that there are problems that
are 'beyond computers', which cannot be tamed by more and more processing
power or any other technological advancements.
This book covers pretty much the same range of topics as Harel's earlier
book, 'Algorithmics : the spirit of Computer Science', but in only half
the number of pages, and with a heavy emphasis on the 'limitations' of
computers, which actually are limitations of our knowledge rather than
of the machines themselves.
How does it compare with the eariler book ? Well, it's more uptodate,
since it was published in 2000, whereas the other one was in 1992 -
so here you find buzzwords like 'Java', 'Dotcom', 'Quantum Computing',
etc, which you wouldn't find in the earlier book, but on the whole
i prefer the earlier one, since it had a little more detail, made you
think a little more, and even had exercises for those who were interested
in probing further.
So all in all, if you want a light, breezy introduction to the basic ideas
of Theoretical Computer Science which doesn't demand too much concentration,
this is a good choice, but if you're willing to put in some time & effort
& enjoy puzzles & logical thinking, then you'll find Harel's other book,
'Algorithmics : the spirit of Computer Science' much more rewarding.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Easy introduction 21 septembre 2004
Par William Rockwell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
The is a good introductory book into the limits of computation. The book introduces the major concepts and vocabulary in a very easy to understand way. However that is the limit to this book on limits. If you are looking for non-technical information, then this may well be the book for you.

If you are looking for proofs, answers to your homwork problems, or rigor, you will be disappointed. The author states many conjectures few have proofs. From the conjectures he uses easily understood arguments to make his points. The conjectors are in fact true, but you will have to look elsewhere to find proofs.

The reasons I gave 4 stars instead of 5 are twofold. Although the book is pretty good, the writing seems a bit quirky at times. I would have liked to have seen a bit more rigor. Although I can understand wanting the book to be as simple as possible, but many of the proofs are not very difficult and could have been included (for example the halting problem).
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Not all problems are soluble via computation 2 avril 2011
Par Wikileaker - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
The January 1990 AT&T telephone network crash and the June 1996 inflight explosion of an Ariane 5 rocket were caused by software failures. These two citations by Harel are two examples of incorrect computer programming that should have been avoidable. With our industrial economy relying to an ever-greater extent on computers for essential functions, the importance of software reliability stands in stark relief.

Harel's third example, that of a 107 year old woman who was mailed registration paperwork for first grade, highlights that even our system of social organization is being dependent on competently run computer networks. Now, this may not be so dramatic as network or rocket crashes, but multiplied by our burgeoning population, it illustrates the fiscal nibbling that computer errors exact on our public budgets.

Thus Harel, having established the stakes (not at the outset, unfortunately, but near the end of Chapter 1), takes up the technical issues having to do with correctness of computation. The book begins with a discussion of the algorithm: the program, inputs, instances, programming languages, and termination. Then in the next chapters he goes on to problems that, even theoretically, defy solution by any means. He describes the Church-Turing Thesis having to do with "effective computability", and the Halting Problem and Rice's Theorem, "No algorithm can decide any nontrivial property of computations.

Even the problems that are solvable in theory just take too much time or machine resources to be economically worthwhile. These are the subject of Ch. 3. Chapter 4 has to do with NP-complete problems: decidable but not known to be tractable (worthwhile). In other words, you know that you can know, but you don't know!

Ch. 5 takes up algorithmic parallelism (mainly), which offers hope. Also touches on randomization, quantum computing, and molecular computing. Ch. 6 takes up cryptography, leading up to the RSA algorithm, and the zero knowledge proofs.
The last chapter takes up the notion of "artificial intelligence", the Turing test, Eliza, searching strategies, etc.

It also touches on issues not unlike those demonstrated by the recent IBM Watson project: "The difficulty is rooted in the observation that human knowledge does not consist merely of a large collection of facts. It is not only the sheer number and volume of facts that is overwhelming...but, to a much larger extent, their interrelationships and dynamics...a human's knowledge base is incredibly complex, and works in ways that are still far beyond our comprehension." Fact is, even now, after Watson, we STILL don't understand how a human knowledge base works, because Watson is not a human and does not employ human search strategies. Despite the media hype that IBM has been trying to work up on the Sunday morning news shows, Watson is still just a souped-up search engine with an English-language front end. Interesting and potentially useful, but no breakthrough.

Seems funny, or perhaps not, that this topic is taken up in the same chapter discussing the Turing test. Watson may produce results competitive with those of humans, but it works in a completely different way -- machine learning. Which means, basically, it is still a rules-based system, but it makes up new rules and modified rules as it operates. Human cognitive machinery is not rules-based. Turing says you can ignore the underlying mechanism; the only way you have to compare a human and a machine is by the results alone. It is a computer equivilant to the behaviorist perspective in psychology: all that matters is what you can see in front of you. Again, nothing new here, this has been apparent since the days of Eliza.

The book is rather theory-oriented but still educational. When Harel cited those three real-world instances I thought the text would be more practically oriented; on this score I was disappointed. But still it's a worthwhile read.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 What They Really Can't Do 1 avril 2011
Par Larry Battle - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
This book sets the record straight. Computers can't fix all of the world problems because they're limited by time and space.

The author starts off by defining algorithms and how computer programs work. He's then explores common problems in computer science using a fair amount of algebra and graphs, like NP complete problems, the travelling salesman problem, the Turing test, tower of Hanoi, and etc.

Restraining from being a complete pessimist, discussions mainly addressing Cryptography are included. Cryptography shows how computational complexity can be used for the greater good, as it's nearly impossible to break the encryption within a reasonable amount of time for any data encoded in RSA.

Lastly, the author ends the book with his take on hot areas in computing, such as Quantum Computers, Artificial Intelligence and evolutionary (generic) programming.
Overall, I enjoyed this pocket size book and recommend it for those interested in expanding their knowledge in Computer Science.
4 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Popularization At Its Best 22 novembre 2000
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This book is a masterpiece! It can be read on many levels and should be a must for anyone who knows how to read and think. The layman will get a gripping and very accessible account of the limits of computing in particular, and the boundaries of knowledge in general. The professional will be able to see, in a nutshell, and explicitly, what he or she or it already knew, but did not really FEEL. But note that this book does not put down computers, but shows the intrinsic limitation of all knowledge. It should have been subtitled: `What EVEN computers can't do'.
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