The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing

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ISBN 9781466505193
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The breathtakingly rapid pace of change in computing makes it easy to overlook the pioneers who began it all. Written by Martin Davis, respected logician and researcher in the theory of computation, The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing explores the fascinating lives, ideas, and discoveries of seven remarkable mathematicians. It tells the stories of the unsung heroes of the computer age – the logicians.

The story begins with Leibniz in the 17th century and then focuses on Boole, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert, and Gödel, before turning to Turing. Turing’s analysis of algorithmic processes led to a single, all-purpose machine that could be programmed to carry out such processes—the computer. Davis describes how this incredible group, with lives as extraordinary as their accomplishments, grappled with logical reasoning and its mechanization. By investigating their achievements and failures, he shows how these pioneers paved the way for modern computing.

Bringing the material up to date, in this revised edition Davis discusses the success of the IBM Watson on Jeopardy, reorganizes the information on incompleteness, and adds information on Konrad Zuse. A distinguished prize-winning logician, Martin Davis has had a career of more than six decades devoted to the important interface between logic and computer science. His expertise, combined with his genuine love of the subject and excellent storytelling, make him the perfect person to tell this story.

Table of Contents

Leibniz’s Dream 
Boole Turns Logic into Algebra 
Frege: From Breakthrough to Despair 
Cantor: Detour through Infinity
Hilbert to the Rescue
Gödel Upsets the Applecart
Turing Conceives of the All-Purpose Computer 
Making the First Universal Computers
Beyond Leibniz’s Dream

Editorial Reviews

"The stories masterfully told in this book underscore the power of ideas and the ‘futility of predicting in advance where they will lead.’ … the structure and presentation of the material make the book an outstanding achievement."
SIGACT News, 2014

"In just over two hundred pages, noted logician Davis (emer., New York Univ.) weaves the story, starting with Leibniz, Boole, and Frege, that leads to the universal computer. … One should read this book from cover to cover, and take the time to read the chapter notes. Do not miss Aiken's (1956!) quote in the introduction, and spend time thinking about the brief summary in the epilogue. Libraries that do not own the original edition will definitely want to acquire this book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."
CHOICE Magazine, October 2012

"Now in a revised edition with added insights concerning Konrad Zuse, the success of the IBM Watson on the game show Jeopardy!, and more, The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing is an extraordinary study of computational pioneers who ultimately transformed the modern world. … highly recommended especially for college library computer science shelves, and an exceptional pick for any reader who is curious about the lives and efforts of great thinkers."
Library Bookwatch, September 2012

"I read and enjoyed the first edition. Upon reading the second, I was again impressed. The book remains fresh and compelling. … I recommend this book very highly. It is suitable for a high school or college library."
—Richard Wilders, MAA Reviews, September 2012

"Anyone who works with computers today, anyone who seeks to look into the electronic future, can profit greatly from reading Martin Davis’s fine ramble through the history of logic and the lives of its pioneers."
—John McCarthy, Stanford University

"At last, a book about the origin of the computer that goes to the heart of the story: the human struggle for logic and truth. Erudite, gripping, and humane, Martin Davis shows the extraordinary individuals through whom the groundwork of the computer came into being, and the culmination in Alan Turing, whose universal machine now dominates the world economy."
—Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

"This updated and eminently readable account of the development of computers and computability theory is a well-wrought tribute to the pioneers in those fields, and in particular to Alan Turing on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth."
—John W. Dawson, author of Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel

"The author and I are near the same age, and what amazing progress we have seen in more than half a century since our college days! The great pioneers, Alan Turing and John von Neumann, would be truly astonished to see how computers have evolved and how they have invaded nearly every aspect of modern life-for both good and evil. In this centenary of Turing's birth, let us pause to honor their vision and multiple accomplishments and to enjoy the lively, readable and insightful story the author weaves for us in this book."
—Dana S. Scott, University Professor Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University, and ACM Turing Award Winner, 1976