Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

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by Christopher Steiner
     
 

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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

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Overview


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?
  Who knows—maybe there’s a bot learning to do your job this minute.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A look at the rise of algorithms and how they can be found in nearly every aspect of modern life. An algorithm, writes engineer Steiner ($20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, 2010), is simply "a set of instructions to be carried out perfunctorily to achieve an ideal result. Information goes into a given algorithm, answers come out." The author examines what information goes in and, more importantly, what answers emerge. Although much of the narrative focuses on Wall Street and how algorithms have changed how stocks are traded, Steiner also discusses other industries, including health care, sports betting and even music recording. For example, the author writes about how an algorithm was used to help unravel a musical mystery: the composition of a unique chord struck at the opening of the Beatles' 1964 song "A Hard Day's Night." However, instead of using the story as a brief example of what algorithms can do, Steiner drags out the tale for pages, dissecting every minute detail. But in other sections, he glosses over some algorithms readers may be most familiar with, such as the one Netflix uses to suggest movies or the algorithms that connect users of an online dating site. Perhaps the book's oddest turn is the cheerfulness with which Steiner describes how algorithms will eventually replace millions of workers, pointing out that since June 2009, "corporations have spent 26 percent more on technology and software but haven't raised their payrolls at all." His advice for readers? "Get friendly with bots," and learn to write new algorithms. Unsatisfying survey of an issue that will be increasingly important in the coming years.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591844921
Publisher:
Portfolio Hardcover
Publication date:
08/30/2012
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.94(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“[Steiner] excels in bringing a dry subject to life.”
Financial Times

 
"As readers follow Steiner in his whirlwind tour of algorithm applications, they will marvel at the versatility of a mathematical tool understood only by a small circle of experts. Readers peer over the experts’ shoulders long enough to trace the decision-tree logic of an individual algorithm and to follow the cascading dynamics of the linked algorithms that drive the “bots” now handling everything from putting astronauts into space to matching compatible personalities venturing into the dating scene…. An accessible foray into computer programming that has become a hidden but pervasive presence."
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist

“Algorithms are affecting every field of human endeavor, from markets to medi­cine, poker to pop music. Read this book if you want to understand the most powerful force shaping the world today and tomorrow.”
—Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist, MIT; coauthor of Race Against the Machine
 
“Christopher Steiner knows how to find terrific stories and tell them well. He has written a lively narrative with humans at its center. To be sure, its subject is important, but the book is also fun.”
—Randall Stross, author of Planet Google and The Launch Pad

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