“When it comes to artificial intelligence, we either hear of a paradise on earth or of our imminent extinction. It’s time we stand face-to-digital-face with the true powers and limitations of the algorithms that already automate important decisions in healthcare, transportation, crime, and commerce.
Hello World is indispensable preparation for the moral quandaries of a world run by code, and with the unfailingly entertaining Hannah Fry as our guide, we’ll be discussing these issues long after the last page is turned” – Back cover
Back in the olden days (2017, I believe) when you had to travel to attend talks by luminaries, I journeyed over to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire to hear Hannah Fry talk about the Maths behind dating and settling down with someone. It challenged a lot of preconceptions I had and left my brain boggling. In short, it was brilliant.
So when a friend offered to post me her copy of Hello World, I couldn’t not say yes.
Hello World: How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine draws on different sorts of data to discuss some of the algorithms which are used to inform decision makers’ policies, as well as some algorithms that may be used in the future. The seven chapters examine the strengths and weaknesses of algorithms in a wide range of fields.
“Are algorithms actually used on a wide scale though?” I asked myself sceptically as I read the back cover. “Seems a little late 21st century”.
It turns out that everything from art, to cars, to the justice system all have algorithms which are driving innovations (heh, car pun) in these sectors. There are algorithms that can identify whether biopsies contain cancer, people will reoffend, calculate the likelihood of your being pregnant, and even create new pieces of music. Move over Vivaldi!
As you would expect, this book presents Hannah Fry’s point of view (as backed by her research). There are a decent amount of footnotes, and a long list of citations at the back which serve as an excellent springboard for further reading and forming different opinions. The strength of Hello World is that you go away feeling a sense of wonder at the tech and the formulae out there whilst not falling into the trap of thinking that a) the tech is infallible and should be put on a pedestal or b) that the ideas are beyond your comprehension.
(I’m still scarred by one author whose very well-meaning and incredibly detailed explanation of quantum cryptography left me feeling as panicked and uncomprehending as I did for the whole of GCSE Maths).
Overall: A gentle and incisive introduction to some of the many ways in which machines, data, and algorithms are increasingly used in the world around us. The impact of some of these technologies was examined, and I found Fry’s explanations of what makes these things “good” and “bad” to be insightful.
I would absolutely recommend this book if you’d like to learn more about the above subjects but worry about not knowing where to start.