Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Hello World

This was a really great book, very accessible and just very readable. I thought to just start it yesterday and whizzed through 2/3rds of the book in two sittings.

Essentially, Hannah Fry takes us through where algorithms already exist and how they currently affect our lives. She takes on a ride through areas like crime, policing, cars, health and art, highlighting the benefits but also the risks.

The thing I really enjoyed, maybe because of my work, was the discussions around how to really make algorithms work. Not in a technical sense, but the real conversations and trade offs society needs to make about how to use algorithms to minimise the harm they could potentially (and already) cause. I love the discussion around making algorithms complementary, not replacements for human interventions.

I guess I see so many discussions about algorithms and AI replacing everything, when that’s probably not going to be the most beneficial user case, it’ll be the augmenting of what humans do already (and hopefully reducing the bits that we’re not so good at.) The one example of this was using an algorithm to screen for breast cancer. The algorithm highlighted anomalous samples, with a human to review them (increasing both their accuracy). I also really enjoyed the bit about driving and how you can’t really have ‘semi-autonomous’ cars, because the moment they fail, humans take too long to understand the situation around them.

Anyway, it was just such a sensible, interesting read. There were lots of interesting examples (good and bad) of algorithms deployed in the real world. I share the worry that if ‘computer says no’ and that people will avoid making complicated decisions (or overrule the computer), which will be the worst outcome for everyone. It probably starts with rethinking how we describe AI/Algorithms, in that it’s not a cure all or magic. I loved the footnote about if you can replace algorithm, AI, Machine Learning or any similar words with ‘magic, without changing the meaning, it’s probably bullshit.

I wish there wasn’t so much hype around this area, maybe when we get passed that, people can have grown up conversations where it isn’t some mysterious black box that delivers answers, but rather just another tool to make life and work easier, faster (and probably eventually cheaper).

Anyway, read it! It’s so accessible! Non-judgemental!

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