Ilya's Reviews > Out of Their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists

Out of Their Minds by Dennis E. Shasha
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Dec 28, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: computer-science

This is a well-written collection of short biographies of twelve computer scientists (Stephen Cook and Leonid Levin of computational complexity, Leslie Lamport of distributed systems, Edsger Dijkstra, Donald Knuth, Michael Rabin and Robert Tarjan of algorithmics, John Backus, Alan Kay and John McCarthy of programming languages, Edward Feigenbaum and Douglas Lenat of AI) and three hardware and software engineers (Frederick Brooks of OS/360, Cray cofounder Burton Smith, Daniel Hillis of Connection Machine). Unusually for a popular book, it is technically correct (there are small mistakes here and there - Turing did not consider the Halting problem; the opposite of a functional language is an imperative language, not a "normal language" - but they are insignificant). This book is very USA-centric: why Leslie Lamport and not Robin Milner? Why Alan Kay and not Ole-Johan Dahl? Why Robert Tarjan and not Sir Anthony Hoare?

The book's predictions for the future are so wrong as to be ridiculous. WWW, e-commerce and cellphones were just beginning to become popular when this book was being written (and this fact spawned research into many new areas of computer science, from distributed caching to RF analog logic), yet it predicts integration of commonsense reasoning into databases and self-reproducing robotic factories in space.
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