There are many “popular” books on science that provide accessible accounts of the recent developments of modern science for the general reader. However, there are very few popular books about computer science – arguably the “science” that has changed the world the most in the last half century. This book is an attempt to address this imbalance and to present an accessible account of the origins and foundations of computer science. In brief, the goal of this book is to explain how computers work, how we arrived at where we are now, and where we are likely to be going in the future.
The key inspiration for writing this book came from Physics Nobel Prize recipient Richard Feynman. In his lifetime, Feynman was one of the few physicists well known to a more general public. There were three main reasons for this recognition. First, there were some wonderful British television programs of Feynman talking about his love for physics. Second, there was his best-selling book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, an entertaining collection of stories about his life in physics – from his experiences at Los Alamos and the Manhattan atomic bomb project, to his days as a professor at Cornell and Caltech. And third, when he was battling the cancer that eventually took his life, was his participation in the enquiry following the Challenger space shuttle disaster. His live demonstration, at a televised press conference, of the effects of freezing water on the rubber O-rings of the space shuttle booster rockets was a wonderfully understandable explanation of the origin of the disaster.