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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Tinkertoy Computer and Other Machinations: Computer Recreations from the Pages of Scientific American and Algorithm » User review

Yes, you can compute using tinkertoys!

  • Jun 29, 2000
The master machinator is at it again, explaining computer science in ways that are offbeat, understandable and exciting. Yes, it is true that a functional computer was built by students at M. I. T. using Tinkertoys, and it played a mean game of tic-tac-toe. While fun to think about and look at, this idea contains much that is deeply significant. As those exposed to Turing Machines know, located in chapter six of this book and found in Dewdney's other works, computer computations are built using very simple base models. There is no theoretical distinction between the actions of a Tinkertoy computer and the fastest supercomputer. The ultimate capabilities of computers, if such things really exist, are not a function of the complexity of the base operations.
Which leads to the discussion of a heated debate taking place in and around the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community. Arguers against the notion of true machine intelligence use the underlying simplicity of computer computations to refute the idea that machines can ever develop self-awareness. Which is now becoming the irrefutable proof of true AI, supplanting the Turing test. Dewdney handles this philosophical discussion very well, posing his own questions. Such as, will we ever truly know what thinking really is?
Chaotic music, neural networks, programming Star Trek and golf games; computers that "passed" the Turing test and computer sculptures are just some of the additional material covered. The number of ways Dewdney finds to further explain computer science is nothing short of amazing.
Another in a growing list of superb primers in computer science by this author, one can only hope that they keep coming. Each essay is a jewel to be treasured and pondered.

Published in Journal of Recreational Mathematics, reprinted with permission.

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About the reviewer
Charles Ashbacher ()
Ranked #76
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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About this book


This collection of A.K. Dewdney's columns from the pages of "Scientific American" and "Algorithm" centres on the four basic themes of the electronic age: matter computes, matter misbehaves, mathematic matters and computers create.
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ISBN-10: 0716724898
ISBN-13: 978-0716724896
Author: A. K. Dewdney
Publisher: W.H. Freeman & Company

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