Phase Change: The Computer Revolution in Science and Mathematics

Phase Change: The Computer Revolution in Science and Mathematics

Phase Change: The Computer Revolution in Science and Mathematics

Phase Change: The Computer Revolution in Science and Mathematics

Synopsis

Robertson's earlier work, The New Renaissance projected the likely future impact of computers in changing our culture. Phase Change builds on and deepens his assessment of the role of the computer as a tool driving profound change by examining the role of computers in changing the face of the sciences and mathematics. He shows that paradigm shifts in understanding in science have generally been triggered by the availability of new tools, allowing the investigator a new way of seeing into questions that had not earlier been amenable to scientific probing.

Excerpt

This book grew out of a long fascination with the extraordinary power of computer technology, starting with the early punched-paper-tape computers of the 1960s and the pocket calculators of the 1970s, through to the latest microchip technologies and even molecular circuitry in the twenty-first century. Computer technology has made it possible to do many things that could not be done without it. However the main theme of this book is not that computers enable us to do things but rather that computers enable us to see and understand things that could not be seen without them. This newly expanded ability to see and understand things is causing revolutions throughout the sciences and mathematics.

My previous book, The New Renaissance (1998), focused on the impact of computers on civilization as a whole rather than on just science and mathematics. That book introduced and explored the concept that civilization is information-limited. The information limits that restrict the development of civilizations can be specified and studied quantitatively, and the first important insight that comes from a quantitative study of information limits is that the revolution generated by computer technology is not the first information revolution in history. It is the fourth.

The first of the three information explosions that preceded the computer revolution is the one that followed the invention of language, the second followed the invention of writing, and the third followed the invention of printing. Language, writing, and printing were . . .

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