cover image Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Hannah Fry. Norton, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-63499-0

Fry, a University College London math professor, invites readers to examine how algorithms affect their lives. She guides her audience through understanding what algorithms are—“simply a series of logical instructions that show how to accomplish a task”—and thoughtfully commends on how they are used, such as in the fields of medicine, criminal justice, art, and transportation, to help people make more consistent decisions and to improve public safety. Fry maintains that the most important consideration isn’t the technical sophistication and complexity of an algorithm, but the reliability and trustworthiness of the people in charge of it. She cautions that “data and algorithms don’t just have the power to predict our shopping habits” but also to “rob someone of their freedom.” To this end, she describes instances in which the use of algorithms has gone awry, such as when an FBI expert’s confidence in facial recognition technology led to a man being held in a maximum security cell for a crime he didn’t commit. These case studies are coupled with difficult questions about how algorithms should be used: for instance, is society willing to give up individualized justice for consistency in sentencing? Throughout, Fry counsels the use of algorithms to complement and enhance human performance, not replace it. This is an intriguing take on a timely topic. (Sept.)