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Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World | [Christopher Steiner]

Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

It used to be that to diagnose an illness, interpret legal documents, analyze foreign policy, or write a newspaper article you needed a human being with specific skills - and maybe an advanced degree or two. These days, high-level tasks are increasingly being handled by algorithms that can do precise work not only with speed but also with nuance. These "bots" started with human programming and logic, but now their reach extends beyond what their creators ever expected.
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Publisher's Summary

The rousing story of the last gasp of human agency and how today’s best and brightest minds are endeavoring to put an end to it.

It used to be that to diagnose an illness, interpret legal documents, analyze foreign policy, or write a newspaper article you needed a human being with specific skills - and maybe an advanced degree or two. These days, high-level tasks are increasingly being handled by algorithms that can do precise work not only with speed but also with nuance. These "bots" started with human programming and logic, but now their reach extends beyond what their creators ever expected.

In this fascinating, frightening audiobook, Christopher Steiner tells the story of how algorithms took over - and shows why the "bot revolution" is about to spill into every aspect of our lives, often silently, without our knowledge. The May 2010 "Flash Crash" exposed Wall Street’s reliance on trading bots to the tune of a 998-point market drop and $1 trillion in vanished market value. But that was just the beginning. In Automate This, we meet bots that drive cars, pen haikus, and write music mistaken for Bach’s. They listen in on our customer service calls and figure out what Iran would do in the event of a nuclear standoff. There are algorithms that can pick out the most cohesive crew of astronauts for a space mission or identify the next Jeremy Lin. Some can even ingest statistics from baseball games and spit out pitch-perfect sports journalism indistinguishable from that produced by humans.

The interaction of man and machine can make our lives easier. But what will the world look like when algorithms control our hospitals, our roads, our culture, and our national security? What happens to businesses when we automate judgment and eliminate human instinct? And what role will be left for doctors, lawyers, writers, truck drivers, and many others? Who knows - maybe there’s a bot learning to do your job right this minute.

©2012 Christopher Steiner (P)2012 Gildan Media LLC

What the Critics Say

"Algorithms are affecting every field of human endeavor, from markets to medicine, poker to pop music. Listen to this audiobook if you want to understand the most powerful force shaping the world today and tomorrow." (Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist, MIT; coauthor of Race Against the Machine)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (655 )
5 star
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4.2 (565 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Tim United States 12-03-13
    Tim United States 12-03-13 Member Since 2010

    Not a mainstream reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Behind the Hamster Wheel"

    "Automate This" is a good primer on how things work behind the scenes. The book is easy to understand by someone that doesn't have a technical background. Christopher Steiner structured his title in a way to help you understand how business is run behind the hamster wheel.

    Many times we interact with bots, even when we don't know it. How many times have you dabbled in online dating and needed to take a survey to find potential matches? Base on your interests and answers, they use algorithms to try to match you with other members that have similar interests.

    We are all being track each time we make a phone call to customer service and when we use our discount cards and whatever else. We are all walking data for bots to understand us better. When I log into my streaming account, it will bring up recommendations titles that I might like. The process of choosing a movie is already made. Soon, we will no longer need to make choices because it will be on the screen.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stanley Germantown, WI, United States 09-04-13
    Stanley Germantown, WI, United States 09-04-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Fascinating, threatening, and not enough"
    What did you love best about Automate This?

    I generally listen to nonfiction. I would rate this in the highest category of the books to which I have listened. I try to save "5" for the top 10% rather than 20%. It is a very timely book since the use of algorithms is really picking up steam in our economy. It was a well constructed and fun narrative.

    While I found the stories great examples and helpful to understand how algorithms are used a greater number of examples with a bit less time spent on each would have enhanced my experience a bit. Nonetheless, I rated it a 5 on both overall and story.

    This is a book for beginners. You don't need a PhD in math to understand the concept that a bunch of PhD quants are trying to replace almost every mental task you perform using computer logic.

    It made me realize how visionary Kurt Vonnegut's classic piece of fiction, "Player Piano" really was.

    p.s. audible. - I never read the same category of nonfiction twice. Your algorithms should know that and recommend books that are different rather than one I just read, not the same. Hire a better breed of quant. :)


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David BELFAST, ME, United States 01-04-13
    David BELFAST, ME, United States 01-04-13 Member Since 2008
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    "A real peek behind the scenes of a world changing"

    The World is changing much faster than we are, Only some can see it and have taken advantage. The rest of us are falling hopelessly behind. Is there anything we can do? Tell friends and parents who "don't do computers" to get up and start running. The Cheese has moved!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert North York, Ontario, Canada 06-08-14
    Robert North York, Ontario, Canada 06-08-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Automated Review"
    Would you try another book from Christopher Steiner and/or Walter Dixon?

    Yes, I would try another book by the author or one narrated by Walter Dixon.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    Made it sound less like a history text book.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    Yes.


    Was Automate This worth the listening time?

    Yes.


    Any additional comments?

    N/A

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Nahant, MA, United States 05-02-14
    Jeff Nahant, MA, United States 05-02-14 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I will read this again sometime"
    Would you listen to Automate This again? Why?

    Yes- there is a lot of valuable recent history in here that is easy to take for granted.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Showing how pervasive the use of algorithms has become.


    What about Walter Dixon’s performance did you like?

    Very good.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    not relevant.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks that machines cannot run human society.It starts by describing the history of how the stock market has become dominated by algorithmic programs that do most of the trading and evolve themselves without human participation. Then it branches out to other professions (medicine, customer service, music, and so on) to show how algorithms are reaching into the management of those professions too.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Gaithersburg, MD, United States 02-11-14
    Anne Gaithersburg, MD, United States 02-11-14 Listener Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Digitalization for Non-Geeks"

    This is an illuminating and enjoyable survey of how computers are transforming the way we live. Most importantly, it is written for the layperson--it's free from jargon and takes a balanced, journalistic approach to the subject.

    The chapters are alternately frightening (the one showing how computer code can produce music as moving as that of the world's greatest composers) and exciting (the one showing how greatly pharmacies and medical diagnoses can be improved).

    Walter Dixon's narration is first-rate: he has an unusually mellow tone that does not prevent him from inflecting every sentence in such a way that you feel he's connected the book to your brain with an invisible cord. I hope to hear him again in other books.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lane Colorado Springs, CO, United States 12-26-13
    Lane Colorado Springs, CO, United States 12-26-13 Member Since 2011
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    "A disappointment of repetitive fluff"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Decrease the repetition throughout the book.


    What could Christopher Steiner have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Go deeper into the topics and eliminate the repetition of many of the examples.


    What three words best describe Walter Dixon’s voice?

    Appropriate, technical, accurate.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Not many redeeming qualities. The concepts were interesting but inadequately presented.


    Any additional comments?

    The book reads as if it was written in the early 1990s. There was little new or revolutionary about the use of algorithms (or "bots"). While there may have been some "oh, that is interesting" moments for some, nothing presented really changed one's perspective. It was a disappointment.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Ottawa, ON, Canada 12-18-13
    Matthew Ottawa, ON, Canada 12-18-13 Member Since 2008

    Avid audiobook addict!

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    "Extremely current and informative"

    Very interesting information. Amazing how many jobs can be done extremely well using algorithms.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mike Atlanta, GA, United States 12-13-13
    Mike Atlanta, GA, United States 12-13-13 Member Since 2013
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    18
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    "Thought Provoking"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    If you are interested in tech - yoou will like this book.


    Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

    Easy to follow


    Any additional comments?

    OK - but not WOW...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Patterson Calgary, AB Canada 12-13-13
    Robert Patterson Calgary, AB Canada 12-13-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Good, but too many opinions for my tastes."

    This book had some good stories, and some keen insights when it comes to algorithms.

    However, it also expounds a lot of opinions as facts. Sorry... but there is lots of stuff that Doctors still don't know.

    Additionally annoying is how the Author abuses the word Hacker. He repeatedly used word "Hacker" to represent anyone who writes code to solve a problem.

    With intelligent editing this could have been a better book. (better=less annoying).

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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