A book rich in speculation about how collective thinking might solve big problems such as climate change; of interests to...

SUPERMINDS

THE SURPRISING POWER OF PEOPLE AND COMPUTERS THINKING TOGETHER

Forget artificial intelligence. Instead, think collective intelligence, putting “AI in combination with humans who provide whatever skills and general intelligence the machines don’t yet have themselves.”

It’s not so much that the machines are going to supplant us, writes Malone (Management/MIT; The Future of Work, 2004), the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. It’s that machines aren’t quite capable—yet—of thinking in ways that humans do, just as machines can perform calculations that it would take generations of human thinkers to complete. Add IT to human brainpower, and you’ve got a supermind—with the operative notion being that the machines are aids to a collective of human thinkers who illustrate, in case after case, that “almost all of our important problems are solved by groups of people, rather than by individuals alone.” While individual intelligence is important—and, writes Malone, intelligence tests are the best predictors of success in a broad range of human endeavors—it’s the pulling together that’s significant. Moreover, while smart people are certainly a desideratum, what counts more in powerful collective intelligence is “social perceptiveness,” a matter in which women typically score higher than men. The author enumerates the cognitive processes that go into an intelligent system, including, importantly, the ability to learn from experience, which is perhaps not as widespread a talent as we might wish. That learning, in turn, may inspire platform revolutions. After all, Malone suggests, now that we’re used to the ease of buying books and toothpaste online, why shouldn’t we be able to shop for spinal surgery in the same way, so that “if consumers don’t get what they want from their current doctors’ offices, they’re likely to go to other superminds in the market for medical services.” The possibilities are endless.

A book rich in speculation about how collective thinking might solve big problems such as climate change; of interests to fans of Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, and other big-picture thinkers.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-34913-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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