Lars K Jensen's Reviews > The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information

The Black Box Society by Frank Pasquale
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really liked it

This book gets it title from double-meaning of the term 'black box':

It can refer to a recording device, like the data-monitoring systems in planes, trains and cars. Or it can mean a system whose workings are mysterious; we can observe its inputs and outputs, but we cannot tell how one becomes the other.

Pasquale has his sights set on the worlds of technology and finance, since it's here we find the most rampant use of algorithms. Here in Europe I imagine we are most familiar with the tech algorithms, brought to us by especially Google and Apple. Certainly the level of 'scoring' on US citizens surprised me. You guys are rated all of the time.

If you are really into the issues of algorithms and privacy, you might not get a lot of new knowledge from this book, but I feel I did. For instance, I hadn't heard of 'fusion centers' (read about them on Wikipedia) before I opened this book. The close connections between the regulators and the regulated in the world of finance were also news to me. And did you know that you might be labeled a terrorist for doing undercover reporting from some of the factory farms in the US?

I enjoyed huge parts of this book, but I have to admit that the chapter on finance/Wall Street was quite a test to get through. There are so many acronyms, terms and so on - and I found my focus slightly drifting. If you're looking for a crash course on what went wrong in 2008 this ain't it. Fortunaly I had read a bit about CDOs (again, Wikipedia) so I wasn't completely blown away - but it is the weaker link in the chain of the book. I guess it's the way it has to be, since the world of finance is the way it is - and Pasquale does say so himself, that he won't go into a look at who did what, when the market crashed.

The finance chapter makes good sense, though, when we get to the two last chapters, where Pasquale comes up with suggestions instead of merely pointing the finger. Pasquale believes that much can be learned from the ways in which health care fraud is being fought and that the Human Genome Project can act as a kind of role model on how many and which resources an oversight might require.

I'm not sure if you can fully enjoy/understand these chapters without the Wall Street chapter - but read it and hang in there, you'll make it, I'm sure :-)

As will all books with footnotes it's a 'notes on same page' vs. 'notes in the back of the book' discussion. Here the notes (and there are a ton of them!) are at the back of the book which makes me...not read them. Since there are so many, I would have preferred to have them on the same page as they are being referenced. That way my take-aways from this book might have been even better.

Don't let that fool you, it's still an interesting read, and if you ever touch or affect an algorithm (and we all do) you should consider reading it.

Some other reviews/mentions of 'The Black Box Society' you should definitely read:

* Steven Aftergood / Nature
* David Auerbach /
* 'The Scoreboards Where You Can’t See Your Score' (Natasha Singer / The New York Times)
* 'Insure People Against Genetic Data Breaches' (Frank Pasquale / The York Times (opinion piece)
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Reading Progress

March 2, 2015 – Started Reading
March 2, 2015 – Shelved
March 15, 2015 – Finished Reading

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