Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1993.
“Fuzzy logic” is a way to program computers so that they can mimic the imprecise way that humans make decisions. This important book traces the dramatic story of Lofti Zadeh, the Iranian-American professor who developed this concept, and his struggle to sell it to the American academic and business communities.
In the summer of 1956, ten young scientists, some barely out of their doctoral studies, sat down to consider the astounding proposition that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can, in principle, be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.” Armed with their own enthusiasm, the excitement of the idea itself, and an infusion of government money, they predicted that the whole range of human intelligence would be programmable within their own lifetimes. Nearly half a century later, the field has grown exponentially—with mixed results.
Based on extensive interviews with the major players, including Marvin Minsky, Herbert Simon, Allen Newell, Raj Reddy, and Patrick Winston, AI is part intellectual history, part business history. Rich with anecdotes about the founders and leaders of the field and their celebrated feuds and intellectual gamesmanship, the book chronicles their dramatic successes (“expert”…[more]
At 1:00 P.M., on March 23, 1989, two obscure scientists at the University of Utah announced that they had discovered salvation in a test tube—cold nuclear fusion. The technology promised sale, cheap, limitless energy, and the press played it as the scientific breakthrough of the century. It would become instead a fiasco of epidemic proportions, an unforgettable morality tale in the scientific method: what happens when reason is perverted by hope and greed.
Gary Taubes’s Bad Science is the vivid, dramatic, and definitive story of the astonishing quest for cold fusion, from its premature birth in a Utah turf war to its lingering and surreal death in a laboratory in College Station, Texas. It is the story of good scientists and bad, of heroes and charlatans, and of a race in which thousands of researchers spent tens of millions of dollars to prove or disprove the existence of a canard. Drawing from interviews with over 260 scientists, administrators,…[more]
“In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon. There in the perfect bowl of the night sky, untouched by light from any human source, a thunderstorm sends its premonitory signal and begins a slow journey to the observer, who thinks: the world is about to change.”
Watching from the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, witness to the sort of violence nature visits upon its creatures, Edward O. Wilson reflects on the crucible of evolution, and so begins his remarkable account of how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity. Wilson, internationally regarded as the dean of biodiversity studies, conducts us on a tour through time, traces the processes that create new species in bursts of adaptive radiation, and points out the cataclysmic events that have disrupted evolution and diminished global diversity over the past 600 million years. The five enormous natural…[more]
Richard Feynman’s life encompassed the most important discoveries and changes in science in this century. As a boy he tinkered with radios and as a scientist he looked at all things from an unusual and unique perspective. Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize, was an eccentric and hard-driven perfectionist—a genius indeed. Feynman’s career touched on every area of modern science: from the Manhattan Project to quantum mechanics, to the Space Shuttle Commission. Beyond the importance of the physicist, we learn of a man whose emotional demons made him all the more human. In the hands of gifted writer James Gleick, Richard Feynman is a man worth knowing.