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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Review: Hello World - Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

 Hello World is Hannah Fry's book about algorithms for a lay audience. I expected to breeze through it since I already knew most of it, but what I loved was her explanation, including why every programming tutorial starts with Hello World, which I stole for an explanation to Bowen.

I enjoyed how she described both machine-learning applications and regular programs as algorithms, and walked through the implementations and implications of both for a lay audience. She does a great job explaining that the non-computerized implementations of algorithms have problems as well, in terms of noise.

our reluctance to question the power of an algorithm has opened the door to people who wish to exploit us. Despite the weight of scientific evidence to the contrary, there are people selling algorithms to police forces and governments that claim to ‘predict’ whether someone is a terrorist or a paedophile based on the characteristics of their face alone. Others insist their algorithm can suggest changes to a single line in a screenplay that will make a movie more profitable at the box office. Others boldly state – without even a hint of sarcasm – that their algorithm is capable of finding your one true love.* (Kindle loc 2952)

She points out that all algorithms  have issues:

 I’ve thought long and hard and I’ve struggled to find a single example of a perfectly fair algorithm. Even the ones that look good on the surface – like autopilot in planes or neural networks that diagnose cancer – have problems deep down. As you’ll have read in the ‘Cars’ chapter, autopilot can put those who trained under automation at a serious disadvantage behind the wheel or the joystick. There are even concerns that the apparently miraculous tumour-finding algorithms we looked at in the ‘Medicine’ chapter don’t work as well on all ethnic groups. (Kindle loc 2963)

 I definitely enjoyed the book, even though I'd encountered all the ideas in the book previously.  Recommended.

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