Outnumbered: Exploring the Algorithims That Control Our Lives

David Sumpter. Bloomsbury Sigma, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4729-4741-3
At a time of widespread concern about technology exerting too much influence over people’s lives, mathematics professor Sumpter (Soccermatics) devotes this enlightening book to investigating these fears and explaining clearly what algorithms do. He tackles different examples of their appearance in daily life, starting with in-the-news attempts to use the internet to study and influence voters. He discusses data harvested from Facebook users regarding their preferences in politics and other areas (theoretically, Democrats “could focus on getting the vote out among Harry Potter fans”), observing that, thankfully, the data’s accuracy is limited by the algorithim designers’ own inherent biases. As to the fake news disseminated on Facebook and other content aggregators, Sumpter believes that, for most people, it has little real impact. A more worrying phenomenon, he believes, is how advertising algorithms lead consumers. By reading, buying, or watching what is suggested to them, readers miss out on things that don’t fit into the math, since “when we are shown too much information, our brains decide that the best thing to do is just ignore it.” In his clear account of how algorithms work, Sumpter provides comfort to those who fear them as an insidious form of mind control, concluding that the real work is to address human biases. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 06/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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