Of some interest to students of technology and society, though less compelling than recent books by Jaron Lanier, Edward...

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A HUMAN'S GUIDE TO MACHINE INTELLIGENCE

HOW ALGORITHMS ARE SHAPING OUR LIVES AND HOW WE CAN STAY IN CONTROL

The algorithms are coming, whether the world is ready for them or not—and whether the algorithms are ready for prime time.

“As machines become more intelligent and dynamic,” writes Hosanagar (Technology and Digital Business/Wharton School of the Univ. of Pennsylvania), “they also become more unpredictable.” Thus arises a built-in conundrum in designing algorithms, the basis of artificial intelligence. Sometimes, notes the author, the algorithms—human constructs, aided by machine learning—“behave in unpredictable, biased, and potentially harmful ways” that speak to the law of unintended consequences. As Hosanagar notes by way of example, the Google self-driving car is based on algorithms that in turn are based on rules not programmed by humans directly but instead “trained on a database of videos of humans driving” that allow it to arrive at “its own driving policy using machine learning.” A self-driving car that learns like a teenager in a driver’s education class may not inspire confidence, but, as Hosanagar observes, the algorithm has driven millions of miles in training, something almost no human has ever done. Machine learning is thus supplanting former expert-systems approaches in many areas. In the main, Hosanagar suggests, algorithms are doing their job of serving humankind, but they can pose dangers, as with the Facebook models that construct echo chambers in the place of conversation pits. Little of the author’s discussion will come as a surprise to anyone who keeps up with tech news. The most useful part of the book is Hosanagar’s “algorithmic bill of rights,” which would give consumers insight into the AI that surrounds them, if not some measure of control. One of the pillars contains the clause that anyone “impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have a right to a description of the data used to train them and details as to how that data was collected.”

Of some interest to students of technology and society, though less compelling than recent books by Jaron Lanier, Edward Tenner, and other critics.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-56088-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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