London-based mathematician Fry (The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation, 2015, etc.) ponders thinking machines, the trust we put in them, and the implications for the future.
Forget about the singularity: The thinking machines are already upon us, and they make extraordinarily complex decisions, from how to battle cancer to whether to send someone to jail. The central question about artificial intelligence and the algorithms that drive it is whether we can trust them to do the right thing, especially if we are ceding decision-making power to mathematical constructs and probabilities. As Fry notes, algorithms alone can push us into some uncomfortable territory—e.g., the sentencing of criminal defendants, a process that, though perhaps driven by an altruistic wish for truly blind justice, puts members of ethnic minorities at a distinct disadvantage: The poorer and less educated a person, in many instances, the more a risk for nonappearance or flight he or she is judged to be. There may be reasons for that failure to show up in court; for one thing, as Fry asks, “do they have access to suitable transport to get there?” Programming the algorithm to account for “societal imbalances” may be one solution, and AI may be able to get around some of the discrimination that would bias a human judge. Still, programmers are people, too. In theory, technology is morally neutral—a drone can be used to take photographs or to kill people—so what really unfolds is what Fry describes at the outset: “Each [algorithm] is inextricably connected to the people who build and use it.” The author writes ably and accessibly of some of the thornier problems, not just in the administration of justice and health care but also in matters like the Bayesian inferences that go into operating driverless cars safely and using algorithms to revise film scripts to “make a movie more profitable at the box office.”
A well-constructed tour of technology and its discontents—timely, too, given the increasing prominence of AI in our daily lives.
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").