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Hello World: How Algorithms will Define our Future and Why We Should Learn To Live With It

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You are accused of a crime? Who would you rather decides your future – an algorithm or a human?
Before making your decision, bear in mind that the algorithm will always be more consistent, and far less prone to an error of judgement. Then again, at least the human will be able to look you in the eye before determining your fate. How much fairness would you be willing to sacrifice for that human touch?
This is just one of the dilemmas we face in the age of the algorithm, where the machine rules supreme, telling us what to watch, where to go, even who to send to prison. As increasingly we rely on them to automate big, important decisions – in crime, healthcare, transport, money - they raise questions that cut to the heart of what we want our society to look like, forcing us to decide what matters most. Is helping doctors to diagnose patients more or less important than preserving our anonymity? Should we prevent people from becoming victims of crime, or protect innocent people from being falsely accused?
Hannah Fry takes us on a tour through the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of the algorithms that surround us. In Hello World she lifts the lid on their inner workings, demonstrates their power, exposes their limitations, and examines whether they really are an improvement on the human systems they replace.

320 pages, ebook

First published September 1, 2018

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About the author

Hannah Fry

9 books683 followers
Dr Hannah Fry is a lecturer in the Mathematics of Cities at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL. She works alongside a unique mix of physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, architects and geographers to study the patterns in human behaviour - particularly in an urban setting. Her research applies to a wide range of social problems and questions, from shopping and transport to urban crime, riots and terrorism.

Alongside her academic position, Hannah spends many of her days giving conference keynotes and taking the joy of maths into theatres, pubs and schools. She also regularly appears on TV and radio in the UK, most recently on BBC2's Six Degrees and in her own documentary charting the life of Lady Ada Lovelace.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,001 reviews
Profile Image for G L.
80 reviews31 followers
October 9, 2018
How pop science should be written; concise, engaging, illuminating, and compelling.
Profile Image for Riegs.
938 reviews18 followers
August 1, 2018
Thoroughly researched and more balanced that expected, but still problematic. As a librarian/Information Science professional, I have serious qualms with the argument that we should learn to "live" with algorithms/machines controlling functions of society. Yes, I see the benefits and potential. Yes, I agree that better developed algorithms can improve quality of life. But, I think the folks who develop tech often forget that an algorithm (a machine) should never be depended upon to make humane decisions - nor is it a reliable agent of Effective Altruism.

Let me put it this way: An algorithm does not breathe or think. It cannot express democratic values, no matter how sophisticated it is. It does not know how to critically think; its only goal is to complete a program and meet a target. It does not value privacy. Algorithms will never give a shit about us. I cannot live with the idea that I should be coerced to surrender my free will or private information in order to improve someone else's algorithm. Some things are too unpredictable to be entrusted to a machine. That is what we should really learn to live with.
Profile Image for Charlotte Dann.
88 reviews727 followers
June 8, 2019
Too shallow for anyone who already knows a fair bit about algorithms. I felt (strongly in the Art section) that she wasn't advocating for the programmers and had the perspective of someone who hasn't thought very holistically about human computer interaction. 'Computers can't make art' is a sentiment that really bugs me, it shrouds technology in this cold deific cloak when THE COMPUTER IS THE ART. I so strongly believe that making a computer make art is an extremely artistic endeavour. Go read some McLuhan.

It was a good book, and an interesting grounding on the ways in which algorithms already govern much of our lives and will do even more of our future. For me though, it felt like it had too much fear of the machine, too much alienation, it should have been written by a computer scientist who understands the nuances of HCI, rather than a (admittedly well-researched) mathematician.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,133 reviews
September 30, 2018
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We rely on the computers and the internet for almost everything these days, it is the backbone of our infrastructure, our first point of social contact for friends and associates all around the world, supplies our film and music choices and is a substantial part of the economy now. As the digital world permeates our life further computers are being used as part of, or in some cases the entire part of the decision process. For all those of you who laughed at the 'Computer Says No' sketch in Little Britain, life might not always be so funny now. The question that Fry poses in her book is: Who would you rather decide your future – an algorithm or a human?

In answering this simple question Fry takes us on a tour of the history of the algorithm, where and how they are being used and the possible implications of our dependency on them. We learn of the first algorithms that reached the point where they could beat a grandmaster at chess and how leaving human-like pauses disconcerted him. How sat nav can be a blessing and a curse, how facial recognition can spot the suspect in a crowd and how human error can ensure a decade of misery for an individual passing through passport control.

Every click you make online is saved an analysed by the government and private corporations. The authorities are seeking the ghosts in the machine and to a company, you're just a product that someone can make money out of. Your future might be decided by a pigeon too as Fry explains in the chapter on health and how pattern recognition is being used to evaluate biopsy's for cancers and if you have been really bad, you may not stand in front of a judge, but be sentenced by a computer that would not care one bit about extenuating circumstances; frightening stuff. Algorithms have been used successfully to narrow down the search parameters for those who have committed the most serious crimes and are being used to predict where crimes might take place, the first steps towards Minority Report… Even a subject like art is succumbing to the computer code, what you watch or listen to, prompts suggestions of what else to watch or hear.

To say this book was eye-opening would be an understatement. Fry does not go too heavy on the computer and technology in here, rather she relies on the stories that show how we are all affected by algorithms and the way that they are shaping our lives. This thought-provoking writing has a clarity about it that will make this accessible to almost anyone who picks it up. We do need to use algorithms to our advantage; I worry that we're not at the moment and that we may reach a point where we won’t be able to control them.
Profile Image for Imi.
378 reviews110 followers
May 30, 2019
Among all of the staggeringly impressive, mindboggling things that data and statistics can tell me, how it feels to be human isn't one of them.
This is the book I've been searching for, the book I had been hoping for when I read Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy a couple of months ago. Both books cover similar concepts and even examples, but while I found Weapons overly negative and pessimistic, Fry wonderfully covers both the problems and the huge, huge benefits of using algorithms and statistics. Because, really, if algorithms were only negative, we wouldn't be using them, would we? Fry's arguments and conclusions (that we should be using the strengths of algorithms to supplement human decision making and get round human weaknesses, and vice versa) are balanced and well-evidenced.

On top of being highly informative, reading this book was just so much fun! Fry has a fantastic sense of humour and writes in a way that I believe makes the book accessible for anyone. Don't worry if you're not mathematically inclined, Fry makes sure to explain the concepts well and it's very easy to follow.

I can't fault this book. I loved every second of it and feel much more informed on this area now. I apologise in advance to all my friends, because I predict I am not going to shut up about this book and will be raving about it any chance I can get.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 21 books70 followers
January 27, 2019
Not much of a look inside algorithms. I was hoping for more math but I might be in the minority with that.

She’s a personable writer but most of what is collected is just that. A compilation of contemporary observations gleaned from many open sources.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,146 followers
December 9, 2019
An engagingly written pop science look at algorithms, which is to say the computer codes that now run our lives, from neural networks playing chess and composing Bach to the ones used to diagnose disease or analyse your shopping habits to guess if you're pregnant or serve you up deceptive fake news on Facebook so you vote Brexit.

Some of it is really scary, some of it holds a glimpse of a better future--especially when Fry explains the ways machine intelligence *plus* human insight give the best results--and all of it make it extremely clear that we need massive legal regulation stat to prevent every aspect of our lives being sold for profit by a handful of rich American tech bastards. In the meantime it will give you pause before you consider entering health data into a "free" app, let alone cheerfully sending off your DNA to a "genealogy" company aka data salesman.

Ugh. A recommended read.
Profile Image for Keyo Çalî.
66 reviews94 followers
August 14, 2020
We are living in an era that is impossible to imagine a life without machines and algorithms.
good or bad, it all depends on us, it all depends on how to be human in the age of machines.
I am pretty sure that most of us have a wrong understanding of what they are and how we need to deal with them.
so I strongly recommend this book!

I give the book 4 stars for the great content
and one more star because Hannah Fry is a real star.
Profile Image for Anete.
428 reviews63 followers
June 16, 2019
Šī ir viena interesanta un izklaidējoša grāmata par algoritmiem, jā, es lasīju par programmēšanu, statistiku, matemātikas teorēmām un ik pa laikam skaļi iesmējos, un atklāju sev nezināmus veidus, kuros tiek izmantoti algoritmi, kā arī guvu priekšstatu, kā tad īsti viņi strādā un kādas problēmas rada.
Interneta izmantošanas vēstures un personas datu analīze, medicīnā slimību diagnosticēšanā, tiesu praksē, noziegumu izmeklēšanā un preventīvo pasākumu veikšanai, autopiloti lidmašīnās un ceļš uz bezpilota transporta līdzekļiem, mākslas filmu un mūzikas popularitātes prognozēšana un pat mūzikas radīšana – tās ir tikai vispārējos vilcienos ieskicētas algoritma daudzās sejas. Bet nekas nav perfekts, gluži kā cilvēks kļūdas, arī algoritmi nav perfekti. Fascinējoši.
Profile Image for Ed.
444 reviews12 followers
September 4, 2018
Fry takes us through an engaging overview of data and algorithms, and how they are used in our modern world.
It reads like an entertaining Guardian article, but never really manages to pull itself to a higher level than that.
Some questionable conclusions are drawn, and there may be a lack of depth on any of the individual subjects, but the occasional nuggets of wisdom and the easy tone make up for much of the downsides; it was still a breezy read and may serve as an interesting introduction to data science for the completely uninitiated. That said, you'd have to feel that many of the cases looked at the book would be known to anyone with even a passing interest, so I'm not entirely sure what purpose it could best serve.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,737 reviews37 followers
September 21, 2021
Great read! This caught my eye as it was passing through the library on its way to fill a patron’s hold. I think I had algorithms on my mind because of the class I’m taking this semester. I can’t say the cover or title is anything that would fill me with excitement—although once she explained the title, it made me smile and say, “Ohhh”—but for whatever reason, I placed a hold for myself.
From start to finish, I loved this book. It’s accessible for scientific/mathematical Muggles (among whom I humbly count myself), and it’s fascinating.
Fry has a giant brain. I started following her on Twitter while I was reading this, and I could not make heads or tails of the first tweet of hers I saw (except for the part that said “FFS”—I learned what that meant earlier this year). So I appreciated the fact that she wrote this book at a level I could follow and enjoy. Her many examples and sense of humor made the subject matter more interesting to me than it already was.
Each chapter discusses how algorithms are used in a specific area of our lives: medicine, cars, crime, justice, etc. The implications of how prevalent and trusted they can be is discussed in both positive and negative terms. It’s not a watch-out-the-computers-are-going-to-take-over-and-destroy-us kind of book, but she does take a hard look at what can go wrong with this technology.
It’s threaded throughout the book, but her conclusion is not based on a one-or-the-other mentality, like humans vs. technology. It’s more exploring an idea of the two complementing each other—“The algorithm and the human work together in partnership, exploiting each other’s strengths and embracing each other’s flaws.”
This was a fun book to read. I felt like I learned a lot, and it didn’t hurt one bit.
Profile Image for Swakkhar.
98 reviews13 followers
May 1, 2020
যন্ত্র বনাম মানুষ। ক্রাফট বনাম আর্ট। লেখকের একটা মন্তব্য খুবই চমৎকার। নতুন কিছু না। উনি বলেছেন, যন্ত্র বা এল্গরিদমকে শিল্প সৃষ্টি করতে হলে মানুষ হয়ে জন্ম, মৃত্যু, বেদনা, এগুলি অনুভব করতে পারতে হবে। এই রকম অনেক গুলি অভিজ্ঞতাকে ম্যাশিন লার্নিং এর লোকেরা এখনো তেমন একটা চ্যালেঞ্জ করতে পারে নি। তবে অনেকের ধারণা এই সব মানবিক গুণাবলি নৈর্বক্তিক ভাবে অথবা এম্পিরিকালি আয়ত্ত করা যেতে পারে। এটা যেন ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং সমস্যা একটা। এটা অনেকের মনে হয়। আবার আর্টের ফর্মগুলিও যুগে যুগে বদলেছে। চিরন্তন আর্ট বলে আছে এক মানুষের জীবন। তার যন্ত্রের জয় হবে যদি মানুষের জীবন হেরে যায়।

অনেক চিন্তাভাবনা করা যায়। সাম্প্রতিক বিজ্ঞান বা প্রযুক্তির সীমা, সংঘাত এগুলি নিয়ে ধারণা না থাকলে অবশ্য পাঠ্য।
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 5 books342 followers
June 2, 2022
You are the product

I know there are a fair amount of books out there about the impending doom/utopic promise of algorithms running our lives. And this is a good one. With humor and intelligent, Fry gives us a nice sampling of all the areas of human existence that are not only being taken over by computer algorithms but the significance and the utility in each case.

Search engines are basically a short cut to authority. "Google it" has become the ultimate rebuttal bulletproof of any further discourse because in our minds the mighty Google contains the definitive answers. The issues is that Google is manipulated by its creators who are just as flawed as anyone else. The information presented to, and the order in which it's is presented, is subjective from person to person. Because our attention has been commoditized by advertisers, search algorithms are manipulated to maintain a healthy amount of consumerism on the side. How often have you gone to the second google search page before deciding that the info you obtained is accurate to take back to your Facebook fight and finally show that nitwit once and for all that they are a nitwit? Don't you think that person is doing the same thing on their own end with their own siloed info echo chamber? The atomization of information has created not a healthy marketplace of ideas but rather a marketplace of realities. People cannot be governed if they don't agree on reality.

Grocery stores know you very well. Because you bought fresh fennel, they have algorithms that are probably pretty accurate about what type of person you are and what else you'd like to buy. They may know your pregnant before anyone else in your life does. But they don't want to be TOO creepy, mixing in wine coupons along with the prenatal vitamin coupons so you don't get the vibes that your consumerism is literally being surveilled. 23 and Me may take payment to do their genetic testing but they then sell your info to tons of third party data brokers. You are the product.

Anytime you do anything, your data is sold to a data broker who then sells that data to someone else to triangulate ways in which you will purchase more things. And the terrifying thing is that data brokers are largely unregulated. They can easily de-anonymize your data and find out exactly who you are. Make no doubt about it, privacy is an utter illusion.

The CCP is really honing in on this with their social credit system roll out, giving their "citizens" points based on who they are and leveraged that into social amenities like getting on a plane or having a decent credit rating. From divining criminality, taking decision-making away from judges, automating pathological diagnoses, driverless cars, computer algorithms and machine-learning has unbelievable potential for good and the catastrophic bad. It is a true Pandora box that is unleashed upon us that no one can stop.

Another book on this topic I enjoyed was Weapons of Math Destruction. Hello World was a little more accessible.
Profile Image for ash | spaceyreads.
346 reviews204 followers
May 9, 2019
Hannah Fry introduces us to algorithms and to thinking about algorithms in her crisp, lighthearted, accessible book. This is definitely something for the uninitiated and may benefit you the most if this is one of your first books about data science. There are no in-depth arguments of any sort, she didn't zero in on any sub-topic; it's a light skim off the frothing issue condensed into something you can read on your commute or before bed.

"It's about asking if an algorithm is having a net benefit on society."

This was the premise of her novel. Fry explored seven key areas of society - Power, Data, Justice, Medicine, Cars, Crime, and Art. Her stance is that algorithms, like any tool, should be viewed and treated as such. We must not forget that we hold control and agency over algorithms, and we can and should continue to be critical of an algorithm's origin, influence, and power. At the same time, we have to be mindful that inevitably, an algorithm can have far reaching and god-like influence over the way we think, the information we receive, and the decisions that we make as a society.

"Perhaps more ominous, given how much of our information we now get from algorithms like search engines, is how much agency people believed they had in their own opinions: 'When people are unaware how are being manipulated, they tend to believe hey have adopted their new thinking voluntarily,' Epstein wrote in the original paper."

As always, I read with a social perspective, and I find it worth noting that, like everything else - our social norms, structures, our states and its policies, our private lives - algorithms reflect our ideologies. Fry detailed how ironically in our attempt to make our judicial system fair through consistency and objectivity, it still reflected (actually, through reflection, consistently and objectively, I'd say) institutional racism and classism. The algorithm merely picks up our pattern of decisions and automates that. In other cases, it could be that the creater of the algorithm used incorrect base data, or didn't think through the real-world consequences of their algorithm before rolling it out.

"For the time being, worrying about evil AI is a bit like worrying about overcrowding on Mars."

And she's right. Worry about what's here now. Encourage discussions and create dialogue. And this is a good book to start with.
Profile Image for Thom.
1,568 reviews47 followers
October 24, 2019
The subtitle is key, because this isn't a book about software engineering. It does not examine the code of algorithms or any complex math. What it does do is discuss how humans and algorithms interact, and it does this beautifully. Interesting, and at times humorous - recommended!

In Hello World, author Hannah Fry examines some algorithms, from chess to criminal justice to art, both successes and failures. As she says in the introduction, this is primarily a book about humans - who we are, where we are going, and how that is changing through technology. Her most important point is that we shouldn't think of algorithms as an authority. The best world is one where humans work with transparent algorithms, assisted but not overruled, and very much held accountable.
Profile Image for Viola.
350 reviews49 followers
September 17, 2019
Interesants pētījums par tehnoloģisko attīstību,dažādiem algoritmiem. Tas kā sadarbojoties cilvēkam un tehnoloģijām ir iespējams uzlabot ikdienas dzīvi. Īpaši saistoša likās nodaļa par to,kā ar matemātisko aprēķinu palīdzību iespējams atrast noziedziniekus un novērst nākamos noziegumus.
Profile Image for Clelixedda.
92 reviews13 followers
April 8, 2019
In this book, Hannah Fry gives an introduction and overview on algorithms and algorithmic techniques used (or set out for future use) in our modern societies. It starts by explaining basic concepts of machine learning, AI and data-driven algorithms. She then explores different areas of society and life to show that similar techniques can be used in very different contexts, like medicine, cars, the justice system or art. In all of these contexts, she manages to highlight the good, the bad and the problematic and guides the reader through the questions that the use of these algorithms raises.

I loved this book. It’s a little gem of scientific writing with focus on mathematics, because it’s well written, very understandable, interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining. The author has a very charming style and it makes me especially happy that she is using her talents to educate people on my favourite STEM subject :). I also really loved her optimistic outlook on future uses of data-driven algorithms and the quite global perspective she had. Also, love the title :D

UPDATE: I liked this book so much, I bought a second copy of this book, because Waterstones had a signed edition.
Profile Image for Catriona.
141 reviews41 followers
August 18, 2018
Though roughly enjoyed every chapter, it was absolutely fascinating! Reminded me of reading Atul Gawande or Jon Ronson, such a brilliant blend of passionate narrator, demonstrable excellence and understanding in their field and page turning enthusiasm.
Profile Image for Paul  Perry.
376 reviews206 followers
February 2, 2020
An excellent overview of the past, present and future of how computational algorithms shape our world, from the estimable Dr Hannah Fry.

In seven sections - Power, Data, Justice, Medicine, Cars, Crime & Art - Fry give examples, background, threats and potentials of this incredibly powerful IT tool. The examples are well chosen - some I knew, some were new to me - and she uses each as a jumping-off point to discuss the effect not only of the technology itself, but of the cultural, societal and intellectual ways we interact with it. Is what we expect from it realistic or, indeed, desirable?

She uses the well-known example of Idaho Medicaid recipients being stripped of essential benefits by an 'algorithm' that eventually was revealed to be nothing more than a badly constructed Excel spreadsheet to discuss how much we should (or shouldn't) trust the Black Box, of how facial recognition and crime-prediction software is so often racially biased and skewed toward false-positives (it constantly amazes me how little the general populace are aware of the effect of false positives vs false negatives, and how little the media does to educate them), but balanced with positives examples of the effectiveness of algorithms.

This, as a popular science book, does an superb job of covering the main issues and philosophical and social questions of our increasing reliance on algorithms - from everything from shopping preferences to medicine, from security to self-driving cars an autopilot - leaving the reader with a solid base of knowledge and many questions about how we, as a society, use this powerful tool. I could easily have had the book be twice as long and deep (especially in the area of social media and news preferences, although perhaps that is too big a topic for a single chapter) but, for the general popular science audience, this is a brilliant overview with some very thoughtful insights.

One point which is an observation rather than a criticism is that, for the most part, I didn't 'hear' Dr Fry's voice in the writing. This isn't to say there was any problem with the writing or the pacing but, knowing her voice from her radio work - especially the marvellous Curios Cases of Rutherford and Fry that she presents with Adam Rutherford (which, for those not blessed with access to the BBC is available as a podcast and I HIGHLY recommend you seek it out) - the only place I heard Dr Fry was in the short conclusion. I understand she reads the audiobook, so I am intrigued how different it would be to listen to it.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for James Miller.
282 reviews7 followers
July 18, 2018
Thought provoking and interesting read delving into our evolving use of algorithms to make decisions in place of and in addition to those we make ourselves. Balanced arguments explore the positives and negatives of this increasing dependence across the topics of power, data, justice, medicine, cars, crime and art. The author takes us on a journey from the beginnings of our capabilities to program machines, through to the emergence of self-driving cars and the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal before finally leading us to varying hypotheses as to the use of algorithms in the future. The text is easy to understand for anyone without a background in this field and also assists the reader in understanding how everyday tools including social networking apps and supermarket loyalty cards aim to collect and use our data to their advantage in an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace.

This book takes on a very different angle to Hannah Fry’s earlier book The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus in that it does not focus on specific mathematical proofs for individual scenarios and more our interaction with the output of the algorithms that are already in use across many aspects of our daily activities. To that effect in my opinion it is more accessible to those who have little or no interest in mathematics and will undoubtedly serve as a focal point for further conversations. The topics explored are applicable to all of us, and anything that helps us to understand how our lives are being shaped by technology is surely a good thing.

The interest of passages is shown most by the fact that some paragraphs have been photographed and Whatsapped with recommendations to buy!

As an avid listener to her podcast with Adam Rutherford (search for the Mysterious Cases of Rutherford and Fry), I was wholly unsurprised by how good it is: Fry is naturally excellent at communicating.
Profile Image for Faalak.
5 reviews
May 12, 2022
This is a book about the details of how human has entered the age of data. The algorithms that run on data by finding patterns are being used everywhere and have been in use for more than 30 years which is well before the words 'Data' and 'Algorithm' became mainstream. In this book, the author gives brief history along with prospects of the use of data science in several departments. How big companies utilize them for their big profits. Computer and algorithms can be seen as impartial at the surface level but Hannah Fry clearly explains how the bias against marginal societies can creep into these algorithms and how we can become aware of it and the cautions we need to take. Most of the book seemed like the stories from the articles we have already read somewhere on the internet but the book goes a little bit deeper into these stories ranging from autonomous cars to curbing crime to making art with some fascinating examples. It can be seen as a little intro to the field of data science. The author gives both pros and cons, optimistic and pessimistic angles of different offshoots of algorithms, and finally leaves the judgment for the reader to give.
Profile Image for Vish Wam.
46 reviews13 followers
February 19, 2019
Rivetting. Engaging. Funny.

Hannah Fry takes on the tyrannical influence of algorithms. But doesn't cast a future of doom, sounding like a luddite. The book is a refreshing take on how we could have a framework where we understand and accept AI for its flaws, and make decisions aided by it while questioning its power at each stage.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,259 followers
March 21, 2019
Algorithms are increasingly an important part of our lives, yet even as more of us become aware of this, how much do we actually stop to consider what that means? How much do we stop to consider who is designing these algorithms and how they actually work? And why are we willing to give up so much control to them in the first place? Hello World is a short tour through the various ways in which algorithms intersect with human decision-making. It is neither comprehensive nor particularly in-depth. Nevertheless, through a few choice examples, Hannah Fry illustrates why this is an important topic and an issue we should think about more often and more deeply.

Fry has organized the book into 7 discrete chapters: Power, Data, Justice, Medicine, Cars, Crime, and Art. Each chapter explores the role of algorithms in these parts of our society. Fry intersperses explanations of various algorithms with anecdotes, many of which, as she notes about the now-infamous story of Target outing a teenager’s pregnancy, the reader might already have heard. I believe that one of Fry’s goals is to demonstrate for the reader how algorithms aren’t exotic animals confined to the zoo of a computer science lab. They have real-world applications and real-world effects.

It’s probably inevitable that I compare this to Weapons of Math Destruction , given the similarity of these two books. (Cathy O’Neil blurbed Hello World as well—very good job, marketing team!) Honestly, the subject matter of these two books is very similar, yet I’m not willing to say that one is better than the other. O’Neil writes from the perspective of a mathematician who spent a significant part of her career embedded in the financial sector; Fry is a mathematician who studies Big Data from as an academic career. Many of the concepts elucidated in Weapons of Math Destruction make an appearance here, and Fry often draws similar conclusions as O’Neil. Whereas O’Neil is mostly concerned with the negative effects of algorithms, however, I’d argue that Fry is more interested in raising our awareness about the complexity of these algorithms.

This is a math book at its finest—by which I mean it’s a math book with very few equations in it. Lay people often assume a good mathematics book needs a lot of formulas and numbers, and that’s not true. Math isn’t formulas (that’s engineering—sorry not sorry). Math is about developing a system for solving problems creatively. Fry breaks down what an algorithm is in simple terms, and I loved the chapters on Medicine and Cars, because Fry uses these to explain some great statistical concepts: false positives and negatives, in the former; and Bayesian inference, in the latter. So even though a lot of the anecdotes, specific algorithm examples, etc., were already familiar to me, I still enjoyed how Fry tackles these fundamental but often overlooked mathematical ideas. (As a fan of graph theory and decision math, I also liked the discussion of random forests.)

Fry spends a lot of time discussing how algorithms can get thing wrong. She points out (perhaps obviously) that algorithms will never have “human” judgment—algorithms can’t be empathetic or sympathetic. She illustrates how an algorithm is always going to be biased, so we should be less concerned with chasing after “objective” algorithms but instead focus on building algorithms that are more honest about their biases. The problem with machine learning is two-fold: it’s the data sets we feed in, but it’s also the fact that the decision-making that leads to the output is often opaque.

For all that Fry paints a dire picture, though, she presents a balanced viewpoint that also endorses algorithms as potentially beneficial and necessary. In the Medicine chapter, she points out that algorithmic recognition of diseases like breast cancer is going to make the healthcare system more efficient—as long as these tools are used in conjunction with human judgment, not as a replacement for it. These sentiments are echoed in every chapter, from her exploration of the justice system to her explication of driverless cars, repeated once more at the end of the book where she mentions Kasparov’s centaur chess. If Fry is correct, then perhaps our optimal future is a cyborg future: one in which algorithms enhance our decision-making and help defuse the fallibility of our human judgment, but where humans remain in control of the ultimate decision process and can audit the algorithm.

Hello World is a clear, easy to follow discussion of an extremely relevant topic in today’s society. If, like me, you’re well-read on this subject already, there isn’t a lot of new stuff in here—but I suspect you’ll probably find something. Even so, you’ll hopefully appreciate Fry’s talent for writing and explaining these ideas. As for anyone who has only recently become interested in this subject, you’ll not find many books that explain these ideas so well. Like I said above, this pairs nicely with Weapons of Math Destruction—read both!

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Zuba.
116 reviews25 followers
November 3, 2019
Bardzo ciekawa książka o mylącym tytule, zwłaszcza podtytule.
Autorka, matematyczka wykładająca na University College of London, nie pisze o byciu człowiekiem w znaczeniu pozostania człowiekiem w epoce algorytmów a o tym jak mogą one na ludzi wpływać, jakie zagrożenia wiążą się z coraz większym zaufaniem do automatycznych i samo-uczących się systemów. Mamy rys historyczny (o fascynującym pojedynku Kasparowa z Deep Blue i o tym, jak komputer ograł mistrza bronią psychologiczną, a nie samą mocą obliczeniową), mamy wyjaśnienie kluczowych pojęć, a wreszcie mnóstwo przykładów zastosowań inteligentnych maszyn i algorytmów w codziennym życiu oraz kierunki ich rozwoju w przyszłości.

Autorka rozprawia się z idealistyczną wizją zdania się na obiektywnie działające a przez to wydawałoby się bezstronne i sprawiedliwe systemy wspomagania dla policji i sądownictwa. Nie łudzi się co do niebezpieczeństwa gromadzenia i potencjalnego wykorzystania przeciwko użytkownikom śladów cyfrowych, które zostawiamy za sobą każdym kliknięciem. Hannah Fry sprawiła, że już nie marzy mi się świat pełen autonomicznych samochodów czwartej generacji i lekko przerażają mnie konsekwencje powszechnego użycia autopilota.

Mimo niewesołych wniosków płynących z lektury (a może właśnie dlatego) polecam bardzo "Hello world". Autorka ma dar klarownego tłumaczenia zagadnień, robi to z lekkością i dowcipem. A do tego z przyjemnością słuchało mi się audiobooka w jej wykonaniu. Idealna książka na plażę! I do pociągu i samolotu :)
Profile Image for Inkspill.
396 reviews38 followers
July 31, 2020
more 3.5 stars

A short book written for a non-techie like me, the anecdotes made this a leisurely read – some were very funny – which helped to illustrate the point better. Hannah Fry’s enthusiasm for tech and maths really comes through. I also liked how the book chapters were divided into broad topics, my least favourite was art, I found it to be less comprehensive than the others. The most surprising was how algorithm is used in justice and medicine; I had no idea how they it’s used by judges or developed to improve accuracy in diagnosing medical conditions. My favourite chapter was on cars, from the info here, I’d say self-driving, fully automated, cars are still some way off.

I also didn’t have a full grasp of how cookies work and how information is not private, so overall reading this has been an eye-opener. And though it was a fun read, my only quibble is the style of the book. On the surface it’s expressing a balance view, but looking at the language closer it’s clearly advocating the advantages of AI and machine learning. I wish this was clearer, in the way it’s done to me it feels a touch contradictory and insensitive. In the book Hannah Fry gives many examples of people who have fallen victims of human or machine error, I appreciate whatever system is applied it will never be perfect but this book in places left me with the sense that it’s okay for there to be these victims using algorithms as they will be fewer. So, it left me feeling a little concerned but reading this also sparked my interest to know more about algorithms, AI and machine learning.
Profile Image for Isabelle | Nine Tale Vixen.
2,037 reviews114 followers
January 13, 2019
I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway and received a copy from WWNorton for review purposes. This does not affect my rating or opinions of this book.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that it was understandable for the layperson with minimal technical experience, but not patronizing or reductive which would alienate a more knowledgeable reader. It's written conversationally, with an occasional witty aside/observation/pop culture reference, but always stays on topic: balancing thorough research with practical applications and analysis.

The thematic organization (the use of algorithms vs. human judgment in "Power," "Data," "Justice," "Medicine," "Cars," "Crime," and "Art") makes good sense, introducing specific case studies, hypotheticals, and conclusions for comparison within and without each topic. The conclusions are substantiated and realistic, and I definitely learned quite a bit.
Profile Image for Suphatra.
206 reviews25 followers
February 25, 2019
This book was terrible: a collection of Wired click-bait weaved together under a fluffy theory about Big Brother algorithms. Her liberal contempt at the software industry was palpable, and she brings a "I think I'm smart because I have a PhD but actually know nothing about the industry" attitude. I was so surprised, for someone who is a mathematician, to know so little about how algorithms are actually devised, tested and implemented for software. I will say though, it was handy to have a collection of all the racy tech articles from the last couple years, and fun to read them again. That's what gave her two stars instead of one.
Profile Image for Mimozë.
66 reviews41 followers
September 16, 2019
Great writing and very well researched. Looks at algorithms, their effects and the extent to which they should be used in some of the most important areas of life, such as healthcare, crime, justice, cars, art etc. I would say the title is a bit deceiving, as a computer scientist it made me think it was biased against algorithms, but it isn't. It just examines their place in our daily life and considers how much we should be using/trusting them, weighing the pros and cons and their level of "perfection".
Profile Image for Myles.
34 reviews5 followers
July 11, 2019
Hannah Fry writes in a very human and relatable way about how algorithms have come to play a role into our lives in a variety of different ways. The book is full of interesting anecdotes about how computers play a role in medicine, law, transport and art which are then used to pose interesting ethical and philosophical questions.

It's a quick read and definitely one worth picking up even if you have a passing interest in technology and computer science.
Author 0 books250 followers
December 9, 2019
Data Privacy us going to be the biggest issue in upcoming years in developing and under-developed countries. Data is the new currency and it has been shaping our society and our thought process without us paying attention to it. Artificial Intelligence being already used in Criminal Justice System was news to me. The case has been analyzed thoroughly. This is a no-nonsense book about awareness towards digital security.
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