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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 (777 )
5 star
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4.1 (671 )
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4.2 (673 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Stanley Germantown, WI, United States 09-04-13
    Stanley Germantown, WI, United States 09-04-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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. :)


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janis Fremont, NH, United States 01-25-13
    Janis Fremont, NH, United States 01-25-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved it! Fascinating! Listening a second time."
    Where does Automate This rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Non-fiction story line about how math and computers have put us into space-age living environment. This is for everybody, not just math savants and quants.


    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer WASECA, MN, United States 10-08-12
    Amazon Customer WASECA, MN, United States 10-08-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
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    4
    4
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    "Entertaining, Informative, and Thought productive."
    What did you love best about Automate This?

    The history, I did not know how far back we used algorithms, especially in the stock market.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The narrator for the story was a perfect match.


    Have you listened to any of Walter Dixon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    This is my first.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The future, and how our lives can be made better.


    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert North York, Ontario, Canada 06-08-14
    Robert North York, Ontario, Canada 06-08-14 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kindle Customer Nahant, MA, United States 05-02-14
    Kindle Customer 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.

    3 of 3 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.

    3 of 3 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).

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David BELFAST, ME, United States 01-04-13
    David BELFAST, ME, United States 01-04-13 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CHESTER LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 07-25-14
    CHESTER LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 07-25-14 Member Since 2007

    Chet Yarbrough, an audio book addict, exercises two cocker spaniels twice a day with an Ipod in his pocket and earbuds in his ears. Hope these few reviews seduce the public into a similar obsession but walk safely and be aware of the unaware.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "ALGORITHM"

    With the sub-title—"How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World", Christopher Steiner’s "Automate This" is hyperbolic. Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code hackers to dominate the world. Social and political science have not reached a state of measurement and predictable outcome that reaches Karl Popper’s criteria for science. Popper’s requirement for empirical falsification is not true with social and political algorithms; at least, not as reliable, reproducible experiments. Social and political analysis, even with the use of algorithms, is not science.

    Of particular interest is Steiner’s explanation of algorithm impact on jobs. Like the industrial revolution, the world’s work force will dramatically change with continued automation. More product production will be automated through algorithms that manipulate machines to do the work formerly done by humans. Steiner believes primary growth industries will be ruled by technology. No jobs will be unaffected by algorithms. Steiner notes that even medical services for common colds and routine visits will be served by algorithmic analysis and drug prescription services. Code hackers will be offered the greatest job opportunities. Call centers will become bigger employers but even those jobs will be increasingly handled by algorithms that minimize employee involvement. A conclusion one may draw from Steiner’s book is that middle managers of call centers, sales people for algorithmic products, teachers, personal service providers, and organization executives will be in demand but many traditional labor positions will disappear.

    Steiner’s book is a recruitment tool for today’s and tomorrow’s code hackers. That is where jobs will be. Steiner suggests that young and future populations should plan to acquire basic math skills, learn to code, and plan for a future of automation and exploration.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hugenoot 07-23-14
    Hugenoot 07-23-14 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enjoyable, easy and interesting"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Automate This to be better than the print version?

    Can't comment, haven't read the print version


    Would you be willing to try another book from Christopher Steiner? Why or why not?

    Yes, I like his approach to this topic.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I liked the part about music algorithms and psychological profiling most.


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

    I listen to quite a lot of audiobooks, mostly while jogging or doing chores. A crucial feature of an audiobook for me is the effect it has on my mood. Some books are good but make me tense because I feel I should be taking notes or should rather get the print version. I never really felt that way with this book, it was peaceful to read. When something very interesting came up, I just Googled it to read more on the topic and then Tweeted it.


    Any additional comments?

    The author states in the introduction that he originally envisioned this book to be just about algorithms and Wall Street but was convinced by someone he interviewed to look at the world outside Wall Street. I'd say it shows. Stories about Wall Street does dominate, but I wouldn't say these were the boring parts. The only chapter I considered skipping was the one about health care. Overall, I'm very happy I got this audibook.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 11-20 of 49 results PREVIOUS1235NEXT
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  • Jamie
    Nottingham, United Kingdom
    12/8/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A terrific history of how automation impacts"
    Would you listen to Automate This again? Why?

    Probably not ... definitely a good listen and a fascinating perspective of how technology has been at the forefront of stock markets (primary focus book) and the battles and struggles to contain this genie

    Also slightly terrifying into how simple mistakes can bring down our global society


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Not a character book as such


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Gary
    Bristol, United Kingdom
    10/22/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Software, Quant or Algorithmic Engineers are smart"
    If you could sum up Automate This in three words, what would they be?

    Opportunities Software-Engineering Smart


    What other book might you compare Automate This to, and why?

    Wall Street meets Steve Jobs (Apple Story); clever people spotting opportunities and have the problems solving skills to progress them let alone the technical skills to do it themselves PLUS the ability to ignore / step around people saying NO (it can't be done)


    Which character – as performed by Walter Dixon – was your favourite?

    Thomas Peterffy


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

    Smile, a lot.


    Any additional comments?

    Very useful in my line of work given that I work with numerous PHD data scientists and mathematicians. Not I know what the heck they are talking about. :-)

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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