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A well-constructed tour of technology and its discontents—timely, too, given the increasing prominence of AI in our daily...

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.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63499-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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