Being human in the age of algorithms

That’s not the title. It’s actually the subtitle. The book’s title is Hello World.

OK, so now that you know the title, you want to know who the author is—right?

Well, the author is applied mathematician Hannah Fry, whom I wrote about in a post four weeks ago. This particular book is an engaging account of the interplay between us as human beings and the algorithms that control so much of our lives. It’s definitely aimed at a general audience, not computer programmers or artificial intelligence gurus. So if you’re interested in the inner workings of various algorithms, this isn’t the book for you. It’s mostly a set of stories, not a technical description. (The notes at the end of the book, however, provide more than enough references for further reading if that’s what you’re looking for.)

You probably want to know what types of algorithms Fry is writing about. In other words, what’s the context for the book? Is she talking about social media? Or GPS route recommendations? Or self-driving cars? Or AI? Or crime predictions? Or healthcare decisions? The answer to all these questions—and many other similar ones—is “yes.” This is a far-reaching exploration that touches on more than a dozen areas in which algorithms make or help make decisions. It’s a serious book but never a solemn one. And Fry’s point of view is balanced, being neither alarmist nor blindly accepting. It’s not going to teach you how to write a computer program that will keep your car from driving into a river, but it will help you understand some of the pros and cons of relying on such programs. In Fry’s words, “the best algorithms are the ones that take the human into account at every stage.”

Categories: Books, Technology