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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?
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?
From money to sports to medicine to music, this is the age of the algorithm. The 2010 “flash crash” exposed our financial institutions’ reliance on “trading bots” programmed by physicists and engineers. CIA analysts are being usurped by software that predicts what foreign leaders will do. Baseball general managers now trust their computers more than their gut instincts.
Christopher Steiner traces the story of how algorithms (and their programmers) have spread from Wall Street to Main Street, altering every aspect of our lives. Sooner than we think, our schools, shopping choices, blind dates, and more will be governed by cleverly designed bots rather than human experience and intuition. Algorithms are already writing hit songs and selecting job candidates. In many cases these innovations are beneficial, such as bots that can interpret X-rays with greater accuracy than radiologists. But there will inevitably be troubling side effects, like the destruction of many professions and increased volatility in financial markets.
Drawing on extensive research and investigative reporting, Steiner explores what our world will look like when computers make more and more decisions for us.
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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