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Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future by Chris Bishop, John MacCormick

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5

Error-Correcting Codes: Mistakes That Fix Themselves

It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error, and another to put him in possession of truth.

—JOHN LOCKE, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

These days, we're used to accessing computers whenever we need them. Richard Hamming, a researcher working at the Bell Telephone Company labs in the 1940s, was not so lucky: the company computer he needed was used by other departments and available to him only on weekends. You can imagine his frustration, therefore, at the crashes that kept recurring due to the computer's errors in reading its own data. Here is what Hamming himself had to say on the matter:

Two weekends in a row I came in and found that all my stuff had been dumped ...

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