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Discrete Charm of the Machine: Why the World Became Digital

by Kenneth Steiglitz Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 256 pages
AU$67.99 NZ$69.56
Product Status: In Stock Now
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The genesis of the digital idea and why it transformed civilization


A few short decades ago we were informed by the smooth signals of analog television, radio, and vinyl discs; communicated with our analog telephones; and even computed with analog computers. Today our world is digital, built with zeros and ones. Why did this revolution occur? The Discrete Charm of the Machine explains, in an engaging and accessible manner, the varied physical and logical reasons behind this radical transformation.


The spark of individual genius shines through this story of innovation: the stored program of Jacquard's loom; the logical branching of Charles Babbage; Alan Turing's brilliant abstraction of the discrete machine; Harry Nyquist's foundation for digital signal processing; Claude Shannon's breakthrough insights into the meaning of information and bandwidth; and Richard Feynman's prescient proposals for nanotechnology and quantum computing. Ken Steiglitz follows the progression of these ideas in the building of our digital world to the internet and artificial intelligence, and finally to the edge of the unknown. Are problems like the famous traveling salesman problem truly beyond the reach of ordinary digital computers? Can quantum computers transcend these barriers? Does a mysterious magical power reside in the analog mechanisms of the brain? Steiglitz concludes by confronting the moral and aesthetic questions raised by the development of artificial intelligence and autonomous robots.


The Discrete Charm of the Machine examines why our information technology, the lifeblood of our civilization, became digital, and challenges us to think about where its future trajectory may lead.




“The Discrete Charm of the Machine is a fun book! Steiglitz has a beautiful writing style that mixes hardcore facts with playful observations.” - William Cook, author of In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman

“Written by one of the pioneers of digital signal processing, The Discrete Charm of the Machine takes readers on an entertaining, accessible stroll through the history of the conversion of computer and entertainment technology from analog to digital. Steiglitz clearly had fun composing this enjoyable book.” - Alan V. Oppenheim, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ken Steiglitz is professor emeritus of computer science and senior scholar at Princeton University. His books include Combinatorial Optimization, A Digital Signal Processing Primer, and Snipers, Shills, and Sharks (Princeton). He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.