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The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create More
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The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create More

3.56  ·  Rating Details ·  301 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
What if everything in life could be reduced to a simple formula? What if numbers were able to tell us which partners we were best matched with – not just in terms of attractiveness, but for a long-term committed marriage? Or if they could say which films would be the biggest hits at the box office, and what changes could be made to those films to make them even more ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 3rd 2014 by WH Allen
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Rob Kitchin
Dec 20, 2014 Rob Kitchin rated it liked it
The Formula provides an overarching account of how algorithms are increasingly being used to mediate, augment and regulate everyday life. There’s much to like about the book -- it’s an engaging read, full of interesting examples, there’s an attempt to go beyond the hyperbole of many popular books about technology and society, and it draws on the ideas of a range of critical theorists (including Baudrillard, Deleuze, Marx, Virilio, Foucault, Descartes, Sennett, Turkle, etc). It’s clear that the ...more
Sep 17, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I glowingly recommend The Formula. This book is for people who are concerned about the philosophical implications of computer algorithms being applied to those most human endeavors as love, law, art and autonomy of self. It is well written and researched. If you are interested in human rights, future work, and your shrinking sphere of information despite the information revolution then read this book. Certainly the potentials for systemic inadvertent discrimination should be widely, openly and ...more
Nov 23, 2014 Gary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Algorithms are a systematic set of rules for handling complex processes often using a recursive methodology (the routine calls itself). The author doesn't really define algorithm this way but he mostly appeals to examples that involve pattern recognition or some kind of sorting of subsets into their most common elements and associates the correlations between those subsets.

He gives good examples on the state of algorithms in use today and how they aid us in our decision making (just think Google
Landon Rordam
Dec 01, 2014 Landon Rordam rated it did not like it
First of all, this is not a book about algorithms. The author does not spend any space talking about what algorithms are, how they work, or their history. Rather, he merely uses them as a stand-in for technology, listing example after exhausting example of things that computers and technology can do. Algorithms are given credit for (or blamed for) big data, data mining, statistics, social networking, the internet... the list goes on. Many of these things have algorithms in common, but the author ...more
Kirsten Zirngibl
Sep 29, 2015 Kirsten Zirngibl rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a good overview for people wondering about the implications of Big Data in our society, especially how formulas for prediction can become self-fulfilling prophesies and about what it means to find meaning.

However, I found it disappointing that the author didn't even try to properly describe algorithms beyond "a series of step by step instructions" or categorize them in any meaningful way. Yes, he warned that this is not "a computer science textbook" but the basics could still be explai
Feb 04, 2015 Colleen rated it it was ok
It reads like someone took an undergraduate statistics class and drew some obvious comparisons. The phenomena of data mining and data analysis isn't shocking or surprising to anyone involved with that sort of thing. Sure, it can be done faster with computers and sure, there are a lot of practical applications. It's like the author was one of those people who thought math class was a waste of time and became shocked. SHOCKED! that it was everywhere. Also, the author's attempt to make "The ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Brenda rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
This is one of those rare longread magazine pieces expanded into a book that doesn't lose out in the expansion. The author is a tech journalist with a crateful of sociocultural concerns about the uses to which we put useful technologies. Way more questions than answers here, but they're the right questions.
Jan 15, 2015 Rick rated it liked it
It is not really a technical book and does not describe how algorithms work. Instead, the writer gives brief examples, and explains what impact algorithms are having in society; both in a negative and positive way.
The writer quotes many scientists, philosophers, politicians, and academics, so it is a useful source of references.
Mackie O'Hara
Jun 29, 2015 Mackie O'Hara rated it it was amazing
Some reviewers are concerned by the use of the word "algorithm," but if you ignore that, this is a fascinating book could provoke thousands of discussions ethical, historical, theoretical, and mathematical.
Ron Yeo
Feb 18, 2015 Ron Yeo rated it liked it
TO be fair, the author did provide a disclaimer in the foreword/introduction that its not a technical book on algorithm. Nevertheless, even discounting this, this book had nothing new in store with me. Felt like a collage of magazine articles to me.
mix between algorithms, data science, internet of things, ethics and interesting applications: movie hit predictor, face recognition, medical diagnosis software, etc...
I listened to this on audiobook, mainly during my commute. Parts of this book were really interesting, but much of it failed to hold my attention. I'd find my mind drifting to the scenery or some work-related topic. At first, I'd rewind and listen again... but often found my mind had drifted again and I'd missed the same section. So I stopped doing that and just let my mind drift in and out of paying attention.

The first chapter I think was the most interesting, about the guy who is monitoring ev
Andrew French
Oct 19, 2016 Andrew French rated it liked it
70% of trades made on Wall Street are ran by algorithms. It took HBO 25 years to receive an Emmy nomination, Netflix did it in 6 months. Google and Amazon not only control what you see in your search results, but how much you pay for a product based on your world view. All of this is done faster than a human can blink, all thanks to something called the algorithm. Algorithms are automated programs, a type of primitive artificial intelligence, that influence our lives and the world we live in ...more
Nov 23, 2016 SWC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Algorithms are everywhere. If a situation does not have an algorithm, someone is probably busy trying to develop an algorithm. On occasion one should question why an algorithm gives an appropriate answer. I found it curious how many times I came across the word'algorithm' in my daily life while I was reading this book
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
The highlight of the book was the chapter about online dating. Fantastic.

I cannot say the same for the rest of this book. While the author did seem to understand some of the biases inherent to algorithms, he seemed wholly unaware of the biases in criminology research. His chapter on predicting crime was horrible, truly horrible. His critical thinking ability seemed to have been on hold. In a different section, he wrote about the biases of judges when sentencing but never quite seemed to connect
Jun 28, 2015 Nathaniel rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Most of the anecdotes and technologies of which this book is comprised were already perfectly familiar to me from following tech news, and as a result there was very little new information for me in this book. A lot of the analysis and critique of these technologies were new, but they were presented in a disjointed, fragmentary manner with no cohesive theme and certainly no thesis with which one could agree or disagree in whole or in part. It was sort of like a random assemblage of things somebo ...more
Jul 30, 2016 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
This book purports to be about how algorithms shape our world, but sadly there's not much detail about the algorithms themselves. It seems to be more about how data and the trends we find from them shape our lives, with occasional mentions of algorithms--which is a fabulous topic in and of itself. I really enjoyed this book, just wish it had a different subtitle. :) Here's a quote from the cover that I feel is fitting:

"What if everything in life could be reduced to a simple formula? What if numb
Elaine Ruth Boe
May 21, 2016 Elaine Ruth Boe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
This book is fascinating. Offering a glimpse into how pervasive algorithms are in the day-to-day living of the 21st century, Dormehl shares the myriad ways that algorithms influence our lives without offering his judgment. From the quantified self of health junkies to dating sites to crime management, the algorithm has shaped how we do everything, and from Dormehl's estimation, its influence will only grow with the upcoming years.

Dormehl leaves us with a question: if the purpose of AI and algor
Zacaro Caro
Oct 04, 2015 Zacaro Caro rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
I waited a while to write a review about this book because I wasn't sure how I liked it. I knew for sure I didn't love it. There was a chapter or so that I didn't care for. But in the end and after some time here's what I think. This book is not about writing formulas, or applying algorithms, this book is about technology analyzing large data, and the implications and applications of how that's been used. It provides interesting examples of how this data has been used to market to you, profile ...more
William Schram
This book was pretty good. It describes the good and bad aspects of reducing everything to a set of data. Some of it is rather frightening in scope. Sure you've heard of self-driving cars, but would you need to have a non-self-driving car in an emergency of some kind? This book is merely a cursory introduction to algorithms and how they affect our lives. In some ways it could turn into some kind of nightmarish dystopia, but in others it can improve our way of life.

The author presents a lot of ex
Tom Tresansky
Jun 28, 2015 Tom Tresansky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf-read
Makes some great points about some of the unforeseen consequences of the algorithmization of various industries and daily life. Unfortunately too much would be familiar to anyone who read Slashdot. Still, I imagine for many people these considerations would be dramatic. Doesn't try to point in any specific direction, it's more of a survey of issues which already affect and will only increasingly dominate people's lives and businesses.

Too often frustrating in its over simplifications, it's best w
Joshua Pontious
May 29, 2015 Joshua Pontious rated it it was amazing
This is a great book because of Luke Dormehl's ability to make use of various pools of knowledge, and his ability to speak of algorithms at a socio-technological level, that present this concept in a fun to read and easily digestible format. His greatest weakness was not defining extensively what an algorithm is, and how it's used to make more humanistic decisions- such as the decisions made on sites such as Okcupid,Eharmony,et cetera- he sort of summarizes these concepts in a quick and dirty ...more
Tom Rowe
This book is a little scary as it talks about trends in how algorithms are used to predict and manipulate human behavior. I was hoping that it would have some examples of actual algorithms (although that may have made listening to the audiobook difficult), but it mostly talked about them as things that live in black boxes that we can't understand. However it was interesting to see how prevalent algorithms are in our daily lives. It makes me a little trepidatious about the future. So, if you want ...more
Thomas Stevenson
May 01, 2016 Thomas Stevenson rated it really liked it
Algorithms are everywhere, "deciding" what will happen in our lives. Dormehl's very readable account provides the background to their development and suggests what their future uses might be. Some of this, like making a brain think its touching an object where it is only in contact with a flat screen, were clearly beyond my grasp. But less esoteric uses, such as determining "no-fly" lists are understandable and fascinating, even if lots of people are misplaced in the process. It would have been ...more
Jun 10, 2015 Abby rated it liked it
Very interesting topic. Most certainly not a light read, could be very dense at times. I did enjoy the real life application of the different chapters and its references to different aspects of USA pop culture. The my favorite part was the final chapter in which it summarizes everything and also high lights all of the problems algorithms can create. As well as point out the jobs that algorithms are going to replace - it was not what i was expecting.

It is a good read if you are looking to learn
Max Chan
Dec 31, 2015 Max Chan rated it it was amazing
This is the best read I have had in ages. There are so many 'wow' moments and a very real and serious look into the future. We can't be sure if computers and robots will eventually take over the world and democratize every profession deemed too sacred and best be left to the experts from Law to Medicine... But it could well give us a glimpse. I swear I will recommend it to Mr Lee our dear prime minister from our tiny island of Singapore if only it will shape the policies that will continue to ...more
Wendi Klaiber
Aug 07, 2015 Wendi Klaiber rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
The title of the book is misleading as to the real topic of the book. I had thought that that this book might focus on various well known formulas, their derivation and application, but instead it discusses the different ways that algorithms are used in technology to gather data. This book reminded me of some of the books that Malcolm Gladwell writes in respect to the use of data in our current day. It was interesting but that is about all I can say about it.
Nick Ertz
A very thought provoking book. Just how do you feel about the potential for manipulation caused by algorithms found everywhere? And after you get off that horse - how do you feel about not having them there at all? Search can't be the same without them. In the end I believe the answer lies is two things: an awareness that there is a formula involved in what I'm doing; and critical thinking - don't take any answer at face value.
May 23, 2016 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the era of big data, everyone is trying to mine useful data out of everything we do everywhere. While we may think whatever result comes out of it would be objective, one thing I get out of the book is to be aware that algorithm is written by human after all. Just like any statistics can be misused, bias can be built into the algorithm. We can't simply trust everything the "system" throws at us.
Aaron Chu
Nov 30, 2015 Aaron Chu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is more than about formulas and algorithms, it also allows room for philosophical thinking. I find the book to be very entertaining with its slightly condescending but humorous remarks. More importantly, through the examples of today's businesses, the book is able to deliver doses of reality that can make one contemplate on the human-technology relationship, evolution, society and humanity.
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Luke Dormehl is a journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film. His writing has appeared in Wired, The Observer, Fast Company, Empire, Cult of Mac, Politico, The Huffington Post, and Techmeme.

He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems (And Create More), The Apple Revolution: Steve Jobs, The Counterculture, and How the Crazy Ones Took Over the Wor
More about Luke Dormehl...

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“It is the gulf between the idea of the autonomous individual, and the algorithmic tendency to view the individual as one categorisable node in an aggregate mass that can result in The Formula’s equivalent of a crisis of self.” 0 likes
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