cover image The Numerati

The Numerati

Stephen Baker, . . Houghton Mifflin, $26 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-618-78460-8

In this captivating exploration of digital nosiness, business reporter Baker spotlights a new breed of entrepreneurial mathematicians (the “numerati”) engaged in harnessing the avalanche of private data individuals provide when they use a credit card, donate to a cause, surf the Internet—or even make a phone call. According to the author, these crumbs of personal information—buying habits or preferences—are being culled by the numerati to radically transform, and customize, everyday experiences; supermarket “smart carts” will soon greet shoppers by name, guide them to their favorite foods, tempting them with discounts only on items they like; candidates will be able to tailor their messages to specific voters; sensors in homes or even implanted in bodies themselves will report early warnings of medical problems (“have you noticed Grandpa has been walking slower?”), predict an increased risk of disease in the future or adjust a drug for a single individual. An intriguing but disquieting look at a not too distant future when our thoughts will remain private, but computers will disclose our tastes, opinions, habits and quirks to curious parties, not all of whom have our best interests at heart. (Sept. 15)