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What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
First of all, this is not a book about algorithms. The author does not spend any space talking about what algorithms are, how they work, or their history. Rather, he merely uses them as a stand-in for technology, listing example after exhausting example of things that computers and technology can do. Algorithms are given credit for (or blamed for) big data, data mining, statistics, social networking, the internet... the list goes on. Many of these things have algorithms in common, but the author spends no time actually breaking down where the algorithm comes in. It's almost a placeword, like magic.
Not to mention the dizzying and frequent transitions in this book between starry-eyed entrancement and hang-wringing despair. It seems that algorithms will both make everything in society perfect or come down and destroy us and our humanity. There is no real thesis, nor much actual real synthesis, as most of the book is simply book-review type summaries of articles and books. It gives algorithms far too much credit for everything. When a new topic arises with some silicon valley startup proclaiming the benefits of new technology, the author will invariably cite some instance where somebody wrote an algorithm wrong and something bad happened, and then make vague intimations about the danger of this technology. At one point he even suggested that cameras in bars would be able to tell whether the patrons had contracted STDs.
A very disappointing book. I was very interested in learning how OKCupid algorithms worked, or how algorithms actually functioned in conjunction with the hardware of Google's driverless cars. Instead these technologies were merely mentioned, followed by a quotation from a Slate article that I had already read.
73 of 77 people found this review helpful
Excellent insight into the world of algorithms, what they are and how they are being used to classify, label and identify all of us. A lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Great narration and worth the credit.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful