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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

Critic Reviews

"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

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  • Phil O.
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 09-20-12

Wide-ranging, non-technical

This book in a talkative-colorful style tours through many creators and applications in various sub-fields of this big, emerging part of our lives. It shows in a general and non-tech way how a set of ideas or a body of knowledge is mapped onto a high-speed decision system. (Sometimes, the system is building knowledge as it goes.) The story about the evolution of call centers, and how a "bot" quickly reads the caller's personality from a few word usages and sentence structures, to route the call to the right type of response (and responder) was very telling. It is typical of the way our interactions with business (even fleeting ones) are increasingly mapped from the first milliseconds, to improve the customer service experience (or manipulate us, or introduce a ruthless efficiency to reduce the call center workforce, etc., there being many dimensions, depending on how one might like to look at it). That data is, of course, stored and continuously analyzed. This book is pretty friendly toward the purveyors of these changes. Other audios loosely in this genre include "Super Crunchers" and "Dark Pools."

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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good start, book runs out of sustenace

This title is a good start, the first three chapters are a useful look at the history of algorithms and new developments. I found the last several chapters lagging and devoted to stories of Ivy league and student immigrants cornering wall-street with somewhat questionable programming and tactics. I think the author could have done better by elaborating on algorithms used in different industries other than by wall street, facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, such as science, journalism, etc.

29 of 31 people found this review helpful

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Think they can't automate your job? Think again!

Excellent even if slightly terrifying listen. Steiner offers multiple illustrations of the double edged nature of automation for the humanity it "serves." Trading algorithms allow investment houses to cash in on market imperfections. A robot pharmacist fills prescriptions flawlessly. A computer program composes new symphonies in the styles of long dead masters. Those of us who earn a living through the application of specialized knowledge are under siege. Algorithms that synthesize our elaborate decision trees enable computers to do a hard day's work in the blink of an eye.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Automation on Steroids

In Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World, Christopher Steiner drags readers screaming into a brave new world where humans use computers to make complex decisions. I use an algorithm to help my students write better. The program gives comments on grammar, spelling, and content. Other uses are being found in medicine, news reporting, foreign policy analysis, and all sorts of other work. The brave new world of bots is upon us and Steiner aptly tells readers what, when, why, and how they will come to make our lives different - sometimes better and sometimes not so much. The narration of Walter Dixon is a plus.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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An eye-opener, well told

The title is spot on when is says algorithms "rule our world." The scope, extent and impact of algorithms is mind-blowing.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 01-10-13

the bots have already won

Great story about how the use of algorithms has evolved...from trading on Wall Street to diagnosing medical disorders. By listening to this book, I learned that bots can do far more than I originally thought. High energy narration too.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Stanley
  • Germantown, WI, United States
  • 09-04-13

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. <br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>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.<br/><br/>It made me realize how visionary Kurt Vonnegut's classic piece of fiction, "Player Piano" really was. <br/><br/>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. :)<br/>

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim Fuqua
  • Hendersonville, TN United States
  • 04-01-13

Both inspiring and frightening!

This book is exciting, inspiring and at the same time frightening. Computers and the people who understand them are helping humanity and at the same time gaining a huge edge over people who don't understand and use computers and have the capital to take advantage of their capabilities.

Every late middle school or early high school student should read this book. Their life's trajectory would certainly change to include a more technical education.

For those of us who are on the other end of life's spectrum it makes one wonder whether life has any safe professions or havens for our children and grandchildren. Will half of our doctors be replaced by computers?

When one spends eight to twelve years after high school in study to become a professional is it possible to see all of that work become obsolete with the perfection of a few computer algorithms? But think --- of all of the benefit to humanity from more accessible and accurate medical treatment for everyone on the receiving end instead of the dispensing end of the medical profession. And on it goes.

In the future truck convoys of driverless trucks are likely to deliver our goods in half the time at a fraction of the current cost with no accidents --- and at the same time displace a million truck drivers.

Think of NYC with twenty thousand automated driverless taxi cabs that are incapable of taking the slowest route or blowing a horn or violating a safety law or even having a collision of any sort. Complete safety. Reduced cost. No noise. Displaced drivers.

Read or listen to this book or ----- stick your head in the sand and be intentionally ignorant of the future --- your choice. The change is in progress. Part is history but the exciting part is what is to come.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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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

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  • mr Peter Mo
  • 10-19-17

Enlightening

Even though I was expecting a different concept, this book pleasantly surprised me and it has a lot to offer. It opened my eyes to some aspects of automation I had not consciously considered before and it inspired me to further develop my coding skills.
I actually listened to it at 1.25x of speed and it was just perfect.

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  • Alev Haddadieh
  • 04-26-16

fascinating book..

Developments and the application of the algorithmsn in the last 10 to 15 years have been fascinating..

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  • Jamie
  • 12-08-13

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 <br/><br/>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

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  • Gary
  • 10-22-13

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. :-)