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Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our Worldby Christopher Steiner
Synopses & Reviews
The rousing story of the last gasp of human agency and how today’s best and brightest minds are endeavoring to put an end to it.
It used to be that to diagnose an illness, interpret legal documents, analyze foreign policy, or write a newspaper article you needed a human being with specific skills—and maybe an advanced degree or two. These days, high-level tasks are increasingly being handled by algorithms that can do precise work not only with speed but also with nuance. These “bots” started with human programming and logic, but now their reach extends beyond what their creators ever expected.
In this fascinating, frightening book, Christopher Steiner tells the story of how algorithms took over—and shows why the “bot revolution” is about to spill into every aspect of our lives, often silently, without our knowledge.
The May 2010 “Flash Crash” exposed Wall Street’s reliance on trading bots to the tune of a 998-point market drop and $1 trillion in vanished market value. But that was just the beginning. In Automate This, we meet bots that are driving cars, penning haiku, and writing music mistaken for Bach’s. They listen in on our customer service calls and figure out what Iran would do in the event of a nuclear standoff. There are algorithms that can pick out the most cohesive crew of astronauts for a space mission or identify the next Jeremy Lin. Some can even ingest statistics from baseball games and spit out pitch-perfect sports journalism indistinguishable from that produced by humans.
The interaction of man and machine can make our lives easier. But what will the world look like when algorithms control our hospitals, our roads, our culture, and our national security? What happens to businesses when we automate judgment and eliminate human instinct? And what role will be left for doctors, lawyers, writers, truck drivers, and many others?
A fascinating guided tour of the complex, fast-moving, and influential world of algorithms—what they are, why theyre such powerful predictors of human behavior, and where theyre headed next.
Algorithms exert an extraordinary level of influence on our everyday lives - from dating websites and financial trading floors, through to online retailing and internet searches - Google's search algorithm is now a more closely guarded commercial secret than the recipe for Coca-Cola. Algorithms follow a series of instructions to solve a problem and will include a strategy to produce the best outcome possible from the options and permutations available. Used by scientists for many years and applied in a very specialized way they are now increasingly employed to process the vast amounts of data being generated, in investment banks, in the movie industry where they are used to predict success or failure at the box office and by social scientists and policy makers.
What if everything in life could be reduced to a simple formula? What if numbers were able to tell us which partners we were best matched with not just in terms of attractiveness, but for a long-term committed marriage? Or if they could say which films would be the biggest hits at the box office, and what changes could be made to those films to make them even more successful? Or even who is likely to commit certain crimes, and when? This may sound like the world of science fiction, but in fact it is just the tip of the iceberg in a world that is increasingly ruled by complex algorithms and neural networks.
In The Formula, Luke Dormehl takes readers inside the world of numbers, asking how we came to believe in the all-conquering power of algorithms; introducing the mathematicians, artificial intelligence experts and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are shaping this brave new world, and ultimately asking how we survive in an era where numbers can sometimes seem to create as many problems as they solve.
How the rise of computerized decision-making affects every aspect of business and daily life
The bot takeover began with high frequency trading on Wall Street, and from there it spread to all manners of high-level tasks—such as diagnosing illnesses or interpreting legal documents. There is no realm of human endeavor safe from algorithms that employ speed, precision and nuance.
In this fascinating book, Steiner tells the story of how algorithms took over and shows why the bot revolution” is about to spill into every aspect of our lives. We meet bots that are driving cars, penning haikus, and writing music mistaken for Bachs. They listen in on customer service calls and figure out what Iran would do in the event of a nuclear standoff. On Wall Street, pre-programmed algorithmic deals are executed by machines faster than any human could—leaving human investors at a severe disadvantage.
But what will the world look like when algorithms control our hospitals, our roads, and our national security? Is a stock market controlled by high-speed trading bots worth investing in? And what role will be left for doctors, lawyers, writers, truck drivers, and many others?
About the Author
Christopher Steiner is the cofounder and co-CEO of Aisle50, a Y Combinator start-up offering online grocery deals. An engineer, Steiner was previously a technology journalist at Forbes magazine and the Chicago Tribune. His first book, $20 per Gallon, was a national bestseller.
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