Synopses & Reviews
In Computing for Ordinary Mortals
, cognitive scientist and AI expert Robert St. Amant explains what he calls, "the really
interesting part" of computing, which are the ideas behind the technology. They're powerful ideas, and the foundations for everything that computers do, but they are little discussed. This book will not tell you how to use your computer, but it will give you a conceptual tour of how it works. Some of the ideas, like modularity which are so embedded in what we do as humans, can also give us insight into our own daily activities, how we interact with other people, and in some cases even what's going on in our heads. Computing is all around us, and, to quote Richard Hamming, the influential mathematician and computer scientist, "The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers," and it is this insight that informs the entire book.
St. Amant starts off with an overview of basic concepts in computing-computers are machines, though different in a few important ways from other kinds of machines. From this point we'll follow two different threads through the fabric of computing. One thread is practical. He explains how the architecture of a computer (it's a more dynamic architecture than that of a building) makes it possible for computers to be efficient. He then shows us how to write down instructions so that a computer can accomplish specific tasks (programming), how the computer manages those tasks as it runs (in its operating system), and how computers can communicate with each other (over a network).
The other thread is theoretical. Computers are physical machines, but they process information-in the abstract, they're machines for solving problems. Here we get a view into the nature of computing itself, to see what can be computed and how easily it can be done.
He concludes with the human side of computing, from two different perspectives: artificial intelligence, which explores the possibility that computers might eventually be capable of human-level intelligence, and human-computer interaction, which is about the ways in which computers can enrich our lives-and the ways they fall short. Computing, after all, is a very human activity, at its core, built by us and for us.
"[St. Amant's] stated goal is to provide enough information so anyone, from high school seniors thinking of studying computer science at university to bloggers writing about computer technologies, can analyze and discuss computing effectively. He succeeds admirably." - Technology and Society
Computing isn't only (or even mostly) about hardware and software; it's also about the ideas behind the technology. In Computing for Ordinary Mortals
, computer scientist Robert St. Amant explains this "really
interesting part" of computing, introducing basic computing concepts and strategies in a way that readers without a technical background can understand and appreciate.
Each of the chapters illustrates ideas from a different area of computing, and together they provide important insights into what drives the field as a whole. St. Amant starts off with an overview of basic concepts as well as a brief history of the earliest computers, and then he traces two different threads through the fabric of computing. One thread is practical, illuminating the architecture of a computer and showing how this architecture makes computation efficient. St. Amant shows us how to write down instructions so that a computer can accomplish specific tasks (programming), how the computer manages those tasks as it runs (in its operating system), and how computers can communicate with each other (over a network). The other thread is theoretical, describing how computers are, in the abstract, machines for solving problems. Some of these ideas are embedded in much of what we do as humans, and thus this discussion can also give us insight into our own daily activities, how we interact with other people, and in some cases even what's going on in our heads.
St. Amant concludes with artificial intelligence, exploring the possibility that computers might eventually be capable of human-level intelligence, and human-computer interaction, showing how computers can enrich our lives--and how they fall short.
About the Author
Robert St. Amant
is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Getting Started
Chapter 2. From Mechanical to Electronic Computers
Chapter 3. Computer Architecture: The Nuts and Bolts
Chapter 4. Algorithms and Structured Data: Solving Problems
Chapter 5. Programming: Putting Plans into Action
Chapter 6. Operating Systems: Working Together
Chapter 7. Computer Networks: Making Connections
Chapter 8. Theoretical Computer Science: Pushing Boundaries
Chapter 9. Artificial Intelligence: Being Smart Chapter 10. Human-Computer
Interaction: Thinking About People
Information management: The file system
Information management: Databases