The Pattern on the Stone

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The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work is a book by W. Daniel Hillis, published in 1998 by Basic Books (ISBN 0-465-02595-1). The book attempts to explain concepts from computer science in layman's terms by metaphor and analogy.

The book moves from Boolean algebra through topics such as information theory, parallel computing, cryptography, algorithms, heuristics, universal computing, Turing machines, and promising technologies such as quantum computing and emergent systems.


  • Anthony Cait (December 5, 1998) Science News 154.23 page 354
He begins by imparting Boolean logic through a demonstration of a machine that plays tic-tac-toe...Hillis gift is his ability to convey the logical processes of computers that begin with switches and circuitry and escalate to self-organizing learning ability relevant to parallel computing systems.
Step by step from computer logic to programming to memory and compression. The final two chapters show how computers are truly close to being thinking machines.
  • Gilbert Taylor (October 15, 1998) Booklist 95(4):381
A delightful all-in-one introduction to computer science.
  • Wade Roush (November 1998) Technology Review 101.6 page 94 “The Shaman’s vision stone”
There’s nothing special about silicon, Hillis wants the reader to know. The universal building blocks of computation -- simple, logical functions such as and, or, and not – can be implemented using rods and springs, water pipes and hydraulic valves, and many other physical systems.

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