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HYPERAUTOMATION

An engaging book of expert business-survival advice for a troubled time.

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A debut collection of essays about automation in the business world.

“If we concede reason to instinct, we forfeit the greatest survival mechanism of all, the ability to adapt,” writes chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in his foreword to this densely packed anthology. “This isn't a chess insight, or business strategy; it’s basic Darwinism.” The invocation of survival is apt, as today’s troubled economy hangs over the contents of Calkins’ book, which asserts the need for businesses to adapt quickly in the face of abruptly changing customer needs. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, complicated software was becoming, as the author puts it, the spinal cord of business, and it’s become even more vital now, he says. “Companies today need to be ready at all times to write an application on which their business might depend,” he writes. “The new mandate is for agility in all applications, especially the most important ones.” Calkins, the CEO of enterprise technology company Appian, clarifies that the automation to which he’s referring is not the old conception of the replacement of humans with machines but rather the increasing combination of humans, artificial intelligence, and robotics in the workplace. In these pages, he assembles a collection of essays by CEOs and experts that weigh in on all aspects of this transformation. They range from analyzing the extent and direction of automation across a wide spectrum of business applications to assessing the value of “low-code” or “no-code” alternatives.

Most of the experts lined up here have long been passionate advocates of their specific specialties, and this makes them not only terrific explainers, but also invigoratingly direct writers. In “How To Turn Your Company Into a Master of Digital Transformation,” for instance, George Westerman of MIT’s Sloan School of Management clarifies the nature of the shift to automation: “You don’t become a Digital Master by just buying technology and plugging it in,” he writes. “There’s an awful lot of organizational change that has to happen first.” This point comes up repeatedly in these articles, with several writers pointing out not only the promise of greater automation, but also its dangers, such as overreliance on technological innovation or premature investment in the wrong strategies. And the fact that many innovative technologies aren’t developed by the people who use them can be problematic, as well, as technologist Chris Skinner points out: “Kids who can code are dramatically changing the financial markets, but they don’t understand the financial markets.” Hence the appeal of aforementioned “low-code” or “no-code” approaches, which put the tools of change in the hands of chief information officers themselves. Readers from the business world will find these chapters invaluable, particularly at present, with the seismic changes that Covid-19 has wrought in how businesses operate. But even readers who are unfamiliar with the nuances of automation will find these experts’ opinions to be compelling, with their sharp, insightful, real-time takes on one of the more dramatic societal shifts in the modern age.

An engaging book of expert business-survival advice for a troubled time.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73573-290-9

Page Count: 166

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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