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Language and the Rise of the Algorithm
University of Chicago Press, 2022
eISBN: 978-0-226-82254-9 | Cloth: 978-0-226-82253-2
Library of Congress Classification QA9.58.B56 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 006.35
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
A wide-ranging history of the algorithm.
Bringing together the histories of mathematics, computer science, and linguistic thought, Language and the Rise of the Algorithm reveals how recent developments in artificial intelligence are reopening an issue that troubled mathematicians well before the computer age: How do you draw the line between computational rules and the complexities of making systems comprehensible to people? By attending to this question, we come to see that the modern idea of the algorithm is implicated in a long history of attempts to maintain a disciplinary boundary separating technical knowledge from the languages people speak day to day.
Here Jeffrey M. Binder offers a compelling tour of four visions of universal computation that addressed this issue in very different ways: G. W. Leibniz’s calculus ratiocinator; a universal algebra scheme Nicolas de Condorcet designed during the French Revolution; George Boole’s nineteenth-century logic system; and the early programming language ALGOL, short for algorithmic language. These episodes show that symbolic computation has repeatedly become entangled in debates about the nature of communication. Machine learning, in its increasing dependence on words, erodes the line between technical and everyday language, revealing the urgent stakes underlying this boundary.
The idea of the algorithm is a levee holding back the social complexity of language, and it is about to break. This book is about the flood that inspired its construction.
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