Jon's Reviews > The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert   Harris
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Mar 23, 12


It's rare that a thriller keeps me up turning pages until well past midnight, but this one did it. By the author of two (so far) excellent fictionalized installments in a life of Cicero, and The Ghost, about a recent British Prime Minister, made into a very good movie a few years ago. I predict this one will be a movie too. It plays on many of our fears in many ways. A mathematician who has become fabulously wealthy after devising a computer algorithm which predicts what the financial and stock markets are going to do, but who has always kept a very low profile, seems suddenly targeted for no reason by someone who has hacked all his many levels of security and is now out to destroy him financially, psychologically, and physically. Then there is the fear of computers becoming exponentially smarter, and the possible development of artificial intelligence. The fear of the world financial markets imploding, resulting in worldwide economic meltdown. All wrapped into the actual events of May 6, 2010, when the markets really did panic as a result of computerized trading. The mathematician's algorithm is based, among other things, on the fact that when people are frightened (and all market trading is a function of some kind of fear) their behavior becomes very predictable. And now the mathematician himself is frightened, very frightened. Has the person out to get him taken control of the computer and its algorithm? Or has the computer become so vastly intelligent that nobody can understand it? Has it become evil like HAL in 2001, or is it merely acting exactly as it was designed to--as a very efficient hedge fund manager? And is there a difference? A very gripping and timely book. Now I hope Harris will get back to Cicero and conclude his trilogy.
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