RogerBW's Blog

Hello World, Hannah Fry 04 April 2020

2018 non-fiction, a layperson's introduction to the way in which algorithms are allowed to affect life. (Another Book of the Week condensation.)

This is a pop-science book on a subject about which I know quite a lot. Therefore I'm mostly reviewing it not for people like me, but rather for non-technical people who could use a fairly high-level view of what's currently going on, what it might lead to, and what one might want to do about it now and in the future.

Fry is distinctly more optimistic than I am about the willingness of governments to attempt to regulate large companies that can promise to get them re-elected; she talks of "the Facebook scandal" as though it were something that would change anything about the way Facebook does business.

An early attempt to classify algorithms into four broad types flounders badly, but otherwise this is good stuff: a gentle introduction to false-positive and false-negative errors, explanations of why neural nets fail, and generally the way in which humans are forced to accept algorithmic judgments (e.g. on no-fly lists or mortgage applications) with no avenue of appeal even when the "algorithm" was just someone's badly-written spreadsheet.

If you read my blog you probably aren't in the target audience for the book, but it wouldn't be a terrible thing to give to a worried relative. Or even a relative who isn't sufficiently worried.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

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