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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World
Synopses & Reviews
A fascinating guided tour of the complex, fast-moving, and influential world of algorithms—what they are, why theyre such powerful predictors of human behavior, and where theyre headed next.
Algorithms exert an extraordinary level of influence on our everyday lives - from dating websites and financial trading floors, through to online retailing and internet searches - Google's search algorithm is now a more closely guarded commercial secret than the recipe for Coca-Cola. Algorithms follow a series of instructions to solve a problem and will include a strategy to produce the best outcome possible from the options and permutations available. Used by scientists for many years and applied in a very specialized way they are now increasingly employed to process the vast amounts of data being generated, in investment banks, in the movie industry where they are used to predict success or failure at the box office and by social scientists and policy makers.
What if everything in life could be reduced to a simple formula? What if numbers were able to tell us which partners we were best matched with not just in terms of attractiveness, but for a long-term committed marriage? Or if they could say which films would be the biggest hits at the box office, and what changes could be made to those films to make them even more successful? Or even who is likely to commit certain crimes, and when? This may sound like the world of science fiction, but in fact it is just the tip of the iceberg in a world that is increasingly ruled by complex algorithms and neural networks.
In The Formula, Luke Dormehl takes readers inside the world of numbers, asking how we came to believe in the all-conquering power of algorithms; introducing the mathematicians, artificial intelligence experts and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are shaping this brave new world, and ultimately asking how we survive in an era where numbers can sometimes seem to create as many problems as they solve.
"Stewart (Game, Set, and Math) shares his enthusiasm as well as his knowledge in this tour of ground-breaking equations and the research they supported. 'Equations are the lifeblood of mathematics, science, and technology,' allowing scientists, engineers, and even economists to quantify ideas and concepts. Stewart, Warwick University emeritus professor of mathematics, proceeds chronologically, beginning with Pythagoras' theorem. He opens each chapter with an equation, then summarizes its importance and the technological developments it brought about. Many of the equations are famous, from Maxwell's equations unifying electricity and magnetism, and of course Einstein's 'E=mcÂ²', to SchrÃ¶dinger's equation and its unhappy cat. Some are broader mathematical concepts rather than equations, from logarithms and calculus to chaos theory. Two surprising inclusions are the math behind information theory, created by Claude Shannon, and the infamous Black-Scholes equation — aka the 'Midas' formula, which describes how the price of a stock derivative changes over time (which he implicates in the current financial crisis). Stewart assembles an entertaining and illuminating collection of curious facts and histories suitable for random dipping-in or reading straight through. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
For general readers of science and technology titles, this engaging work on the meaning and impact of mathematical equations examines seventeen of the most important equations in history and explores not only the science behind the specific formulas, but also the wide influence of these germinal ideas on modern technologies and scientific study. Covering popular equations such as the Pythagorean theorem and Relativity, as well as more obscure and advanced topics, the work provides an entertaining journey through the development of theoretical mathematics, as well as an informative look at applied science. Numerous tables, graphs, and illustrations are provided throughout. Stewart is professor emeritus of mathematics at Warwick University. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Acclaimed writer and mathematician Ian Stewart examines the seventeen equations that have revolutionized our thinking and changed the course of history.
Most people are familiar with historyand#8217;s great equations: Newtonand#8217;s Law of Gravity, for instance, or Einsteinand#8217;s theory of relativity. But the way these mathematical breakthroughs have contributed to human progress is seldom appreciated. In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart untangles the roots of our most important mathematical statements to show that equations have long been a driving force behind nearly every aspect of our lives. Using seventeen of our most crucial equationsand#151;including the Wave Equation that allowed engineers to measure a buildingand#8217;s response to earthquakes, saving countless lives, and the Black-Scholes model, used by bankers to track the price of financial derivatives over timeand#151;Stewart illustrates that many of the advances we now take for granted were made possible by mathematical discoveries. An approachable, lively, and informative guide to the mathematical building blocks of modern life, In Pursuit of the Unknown is a penetrating exploration of how we have also used equations to make sense of, and in turn influence, our world.
In In Pursuit of the Unknown, celebrated mathematician Ian Stewart uses a handful of mathematical equations to explore the vitally important connections between math and human progress. We often overlook the historical link between mathematics and technological advances, says Stewart—but this connection is integral to any complete understanding of human history.
Equations are modeled on the patterns we find in the world around us, says Stewart, and it is through equations that we are able to make sense of, and in turn influence, our world. Stewart locates the origins of each equation he presents—from Pythagorass Theorem to Newtons Law of Gravity to Einsteins Theory of Relativity—within a particular historical moment, elucidating the development of mathematical and philosophical thought necessary for each equations discovery. None of these equations emerged in a vacuum, Stewart shows; each drew, in some way, on past equations and the thinking of the day. In turn, all of these equations paved the way for major developments in mathematics, science, philosophy, and technology. Without logarithms (invented in the early 17th century by John Napier and improved by Henry Briggs), scientists would not have been able to calculate the movement of the planets, and mathematicians would not have been able to develop fractal geometry. The Wave Equation is one of the most important equations in physics, and is crucial for engineers studying the vibrations in vehicles and the response of buildings to earthquakes. And the equation at the heart of Information Theory, devised by Claude Shannon, is the basis of digital communication today.
An approachable and informative guide to the equations upon which nearly every aspect of scientific and mathematical understanding depends, In Pursuit of the Unknown is also a reminder that equations have profoundly influenced our thinking and continue to make possible many of the advances that we take for granted.
About the Author
Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and active researcher at the University of Warwick. He is also a regular research visitor at the University of Houston, the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications in Minneapolis, and the Santa Fe institute. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S. He lives in Coventry, England.
Table of Contents
1. The squaw on the hippopotamus
2. Shortening the proceedings
3. Ghosts of departed quantities
4. The system of the world
5. Portent of the ideal world
6. Much ado about knotting
7. Patterns of chance
8. Good vibrations
9. Ripples and blips
10. The ascent of humanity
11. Waves in the ether
12. Law and disorder
13. One thing is absolute
14. Quantum weirdness
15. Codes, communications, and computers
16. The imbalance of nature
17. The Midas formula
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