A mathematician and advocate for technology challenges the influence of algorithms and calls for a better understanding of what were giving away
Are you a concerned citizen of the modern world? Do you ever worry that algorithms are stealing your data? Do you secretly have little idea what algorithms and data actually are? Then Hello World is for you.
With refreshing simplicity, Fry explains what AI, machine learning and complicated algorithms really mean, providing some succinct explanations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, driverless cars and many other unnerving modern phenomena. She asks the reader to consider some difficult questions: would you hand over your medical records to a faceless company if doing so might improve treatment for everyone? Should a driverless car prioritise protecting its owner, or the child she is about to run over? Should a judge or a computer calculate whether a prisoner is likely to reoffend? And in each case, who gets to make the rules?
Fry, a mathematician, is a passionate advocate for maths and technology, but keen that we dont put too much faith in them. In one chapter, she explains how a man who nearly followed his satnav off a cliff is similar to the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and to voters being manipulated by social media. We have somehow managed to be simultaneously dismissive of algorithms, intimidated by them and in awe of their capabilities, she argues. Yet humans arent perfect, either. Judges are biased. Doctors fail to spot cancer. Pilots crash. But working together, human and AI-machine can be the perfect team.
Fry makes a convincing case for the urgent need for algorithmic regulation, and wants the public to understand the compromises we are making. And, in the case of Facebook and users data, how cheaply we were bought. This book illustrates why good science writers are essential. We have a tendency to overtrust anything we dont understand, Fry says. And if we dont understand it, those difficult questions will be answered by those who do pharmaceutical companies, malign governments and the like. Its time to pull back the curtain on the algorithms that shape our lives. Because, as Fry says, the future doesnt just happen. We create it.
Hello World is published by Doubleday. To order a copy for 16.33 (RRP 18.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.
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