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Automate This: How Algorithms Took Over Our Markets, Our Jobs, and the World by [Steiner, Christopher]
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Automate This: How Algorithms Took Over Our Markets, Our Jobs, and the World Kindle Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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[Steiner] excels in bringing a dry subject to life. "Financial Times""As readers follow Steiner in his whirlwind tour of algorithm applications, they will marvel at the versatility of a mathematical tool understood only by a small circle of experts. Readers peer over the experts shoulders long enough to trace the decision-tree logic of an individual algorithm and to follow the cascading dynamics of the linked algorithms that drive the bots now handling everything from putting astronauts into space to matching compatible personalities venturing into the dating scene . An accessible foray into computer programming that has become a hidden but pervasive presence." Bryce Christensen, "Booklist" Algorithms are affecting every field of human endeavor, from markets to medicine, poker to pop music. Read this book if you want to understand the most powerful force shaping the world today and tomorrow. Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist, MIT; coauthor of "Race Against the Machine" Christopher Steiner knows how to find terrific stories and tell them well. He has written a lively narrative with humans at its center. To be sure, its subject is important, but the book is also fun. Randall Stross, author of "Planet Google" and "The Launch Pad""

About the Author

Christopher Steiner is the cofounder and co-CEO of Aisle50, a Y Combinator start-up offering online grocery deals. An engineer, Steiner was previously a technology journalist at Forbes magazine and the Chicago Tribune. His first book, $20 Per Gallon, was a national bestseller.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1077 KB
  • Print Length: 268 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1591844924
  • Publisher: Portfolio (30 Aug. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0064W5UAS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #329,335 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Automate This, journalist Christopher Steiner, discusses the ways in which algorithms are increasingly mediating and augmenting everyday life through their deployment in a variety of industries. He makes a persuasive case, using a series of well told stories that focus on the activities of particular pioneers of creating and using algorithms. The result is an engaging and informative read that largely celebrates the development and use of algorithms and their creators, and congratulates them for finding ways to make themselves incredibly rich whilst improving the lot of mankind through better health care, financial trading, music production, a multitude of apps, etc.

That said, the book suffers from a couple of troubling flaws. First, the narrative almost exclusively focuses on the development and use of algorithms in the United States, as if it’s the font of all global computing and algorithmic innovation. And second, and more problematic, is the almost total absence of any critical analysis of algorithms, the logic and rational instrumentality underpinning their use, and their wider effects on social and economic systems. Sure, the use of algorithms has its benefits, but there are also all kinds of risks and social, political and economic consequences to their use, including wide-scale economic restructuring and job losses. Occasionally Steiner acknowledges some of these risks and effects, usually in a throwaway sentence, before quickly moving on, with the suggestion that the benefits out-weigh the risks and better algorithms will address most present shortcomings.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Title of the book is a bit misleading. It is not a book about algorithms, it is a book about people who use and above all create algorithms and develop their various applications. These are not obviously two totally different stories, but decision to bring algorithms closer to the public from the perspective of their users and developers has two important consequences. The first one is that the book feels lively and engaging as it is naturally easier to follow the story of real human beings and to sympathize with their almost adventurous ups and downs. For some readers it might add flavor to the story, for others it might be irritating, it's up to individual judgment. The second consequence is that the book could gain from more direct and simple structuring of the views that the author wants to convey. That's a choice the author made: key topic suggested by the book title is introduced via case studies of some prominent algorithm pioneers in the world of finance, banking, trading etc and their stories determine the flow of narration. For a book on a subject as rigidly structured as algorithms, this kind of approach seems to be apparently in a bit of a contradiction with the subject it aims to cover. From this point of view the book is missing a more holistic approach to what algorithms as such are - that could be a good introduction to the story. Secondly, it could gain some value from a more structured view i.e. one that would be clearly dividing algorithms from their application or any other point of view as there are probably a lot of reasonable categorization opportunities. Having said that, I guess implementing my remarks could actually spoil the pleasure of reading the book as they would bring it closer to a school textbook which it was not intended to be.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very disappointed with this book. It's mostly focused on the financial industry and the book gives no insight into where the whole thing is going. The learning in this book could be summarized in a couple of pages at most.
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Format: Audio CD
A great rundown of how deeply code and algorithms have penetrated into so many different fields. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the people that conceived and wrote the code, and of course (depending on age) the reader comes away wishing that they had chosen computer science as a study route.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8cccc284) out of 5 stars 133 reviews
145 of 168 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c6dadbc) out of 5 stars Superficial treatment and overly narrow definitions of algorithm and a misguided example 1 Oct. 2012
By Jijnasu Forever - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
For a book that is heavily publicized and garnered reviews in major business magazines, this book flatters only to deceive. Unless you are a total novice in this space, a reader is unlikely to find any new examples or insights from the author's treatment of algorithms. Most examples have been discussed ( in terms of technical content and impact on business models, society, behaviors) in magazines like Wired, PopSci and NYT technology pages many years ago. The dated references to recommendation engines like dating websites, those focused on music (Pandora, etc) are all superficial and provide no new insights or a critical appraisal of where those technologies are headed.

The author also overly focuses on Wall Street based scenarios to explain algorithms - he does a particularly bad job in representing algorithms as nothing more than fast calculators - that too, with a fundamentally flawed example based on option trading (I sincerely hope that the author never tried the trade he has mentioned in the book). That misguided example reflects poorly on author's understanding of algorithms and inadvertently proves one thing - algorithms are only as good as the thought that went behind its design.

Despite the superficial treatment, the author makes a few important points in the last two chapters on the need for more skill development in "STEM" disciplines and makes an argument that medical diagnostics is the next main area where algorithms are poised to expand. The discussion is very rushed and provides no meaningful action plan. Moreover, the author fails to acknowledge the vast amount of data that an individual is generating on a daily basis - and concepts of "big data" that could shape how new avenues for algorithms can evolve. Even in healthcare, the author's focus on a tiny sliver of possibilities shows a certain laziness to explore the topic more critically. The role of algorithms in personalizing treatment plans, monitoring for adherence, risk stratification etc are all well-understood frontiers in healthcare - and he chose to ignore them completely.

Overall, a very superficial (but fast paced, entertaining read) treatment of a narrow view of 'machine learning' with very few new insights or examples. An OK read for a beginner to the field.
58 of 67 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c6dae10) out of 5 stars Poor treatment of a great subject 26 Oct. 2012
By Kurt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Steiner's approach to this topic is excellent, taking us through the widely acknowledged but little understood algorithms of Wall Street, to the Mathematical foundations of computer programming, and then to areas more likely to impact the lives of average readers, from commercial uses and finally to algorithms' potential uses in diagnostic medicine for both body and mind.

Unfortunately, the end result is a jumble of hyperbole, gaps in reasoning, outright plugs for certain companies, outdated examples, and just plain inaccuracies. Several readers, for instance, have commented on the confounding explanation of a delta neutral trade. I'm pretty confident that even the meatiest of the "meatheads" (Steiner's term) in the pit were competent enough to lock in a conversion or reversal (something that eludes Mr. Steiner). His explanation isn't just wrong, it entirely misses the concept of delta neutral, and so simultaneously denigrates both the conventional traders and the brilliance of Mr. Peterffy's arbitrage. This sad theme is repeated throughout the book. Steiner's world is one in which a handful of shining pillars of genius wade through a sea of crusty, intransigent morons, which although possessing a kernel of truth, grossly oversimplifies and thus does no justice to the push for and against the expanded use of algorithms.

I was also dismayed that although Steiner acknowledges on a number of occasions the dangers of runaway algorithms, he entirely avoids the far more subtle ethical questions of control. "No willy-nilly tests, no gut feelings, just data in, data out" says Steiner of a rather aggressively imagined Dr. Algorithm. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as neutral data. Which data are being used? How are they being interpreted? Who is making these decisions? Writing an algorithm for wide public use gives someone, whether it be the programmer, the owner of a music distributor, a hospital, or the government, an enormous amount of power. I feel that this book is sorely incomplete without some discussion of this.

We need straightforward, accurate, easily read books on these wonderful and terrifying tools. This just isn't one of them.
67 of 78 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8eddd108) out of 5 stars a great purchase; interesting and informative 2 Sept. 2012
By Nathan Wailes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Length: ~220pp

1. Wall Street, The First Domino - this chapter tells the story of Thomas Peterffy, who was apparently the major innovator in the last 40 years in algorithmic trading. The guy is now a billionaire. It's a VERY interesting story.
2. A Brief History of Man and Algorithms - This spends a lot of time discussing mathematicians of the past, and how their innovations led to
3. The Bot Top 40 - Talks about how algorithms can be used to detect which songs are likely to be hits. Some great stories.
4. The Secret Highways of Bots - The main idea of this chapter is that the SPEED of algorithms is what makes them so valuable. The majority of the chapter is spent telling the story of how two guys spent $200 million building a new communications line between Chicago and NYC so that they could shave 4 milliseconds off the amount of time it took to communicate between the two cities, which gave a HUGE advantage in algorithmic trading. The plan worked and the guys made a ton of money off it.
5. Gaming the System - Algorithms in gaming (poker, etc.)
6. Paging Dr. Bot - Gives examples of companies that are using computers to replace a LOT of the work now done by doctors.
7. Categorizing Humankind - Tells the story of how NASA used algorithms to detect which astronauts would work well together during the 1960s/70s missions, and how this same idea is now being used to create algorithms that can detect your personality over the phone and connect you with a customer service representative whose method of communication matches yours. Very interesting.
8. Wall Street Versus Silicon Valley - Talks about how Silicon Valley and Wall St. compete for talent
9. Wall Street's Loss is a Gain for the Rest of Us
10. The Future Belongs to the Algorithms and Their Creators

How I found out about the book: I preordered the book after I read the author's August 2012 piece in the Wall Street Journal (which was just an excerpt from the book).

What I like about it:
- It is written very clearly, and you can finish the book quickly. The author used to write for Forbes, and it definitely felt like I was reading a magazine article while I was reading the book.
- The book isn't very expensive, and so it seems worth the price to have an extended glimpse into this topic. I don't subscribe to magazines and newspapers at the moment because too many of the articles aren't of interest to me, and it takes time to dig through all the stuff I'm not interested in and find stuff I AM interested in. A book like this solves that problem.

Other books to check out if you like this one:
- The Autobiography of Henry Ford - Ford spends most of the book talking about his method of innovation in manufacturing the Model T, which is exactly the same kind of innovation we're seeing now with the use of computers.
- The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil - talks about how computers are becoming smarter and smarter, to the point where we'll all be biologically immortal
- A Field Guide to Genetic Programming - this is a great intro to a type of computing that is producing better-than-human results by "evolving" programs instead of having people make them by hand.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c6dafe4) out of 5 stars Non-fiction Standout of 2012 11 Sept. 2012
By Mr. Kow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a gem of a book. The subject matter alone is compelling; it exists in that rare place where hugely important, life effecting forces go largely unexplained to the fray of humanity. Algorithms and the people who wield them are pulling all the strings here folks! This book details how it all happened and what's to come, and I for one appreciate being clued in.
The author's style is the best kind of journalistic prose - informative, technical when needed, and honed in on the humanity behind such a, dare I say, nerdy topic. I don't agree with the reviews knocking the lack of tech talk. This is NOT a textbook, but rather the type of discovery that's ingested by an engineer and spit out by a journalist and lucky for us Mr. Steiner is both. I can't think of many others who could succeed where he has. Read this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8eddd648) out of 5 stars Sensational 2 Feb. 2013
By S P - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoy the aim of this book -- to explain how algorithms play such an important role in different areas of our lives. Case studies help add context to what might otherwise be an abstract mathematical musing. But I find the average Joe-oriented approach to come with unintended consequences. The writing is simply hyperbolic. It makes each incremental advancement in automation out to be the apocalypse. Options traders are using options -- well let's pack up and call it a day! Euler started mathematics from a young age -- what a genius! What a remarkable young mind!!

The author, lacking a more meaningful approach to this subject matter, decided to dramatize it as if to catch our attention. Duly noted, and poorly received.
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