The Numerati: How They'll Get My Number and YoursPaperback
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- Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
- Format: Paperback | 256 pages
- Dimensions: 152mm x 233mm x 18mm | 350g
- Publication date: 6 November 2008
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0224080571
- ISBN 13: 9780224080576
- Sales rank: 775,758
In a world teeming with data, we ourselves become the math nerds' most prized specimens. In The Numerati Stephen Baker, a Business Week senior writer, takes us on a guided tour (no maths required) through an unprecedented new era, in which mathematicians are starting to map individual human behaviour - what we do, who we are, how we work, chat, play and shop -- and in so doing, will change every aspect of our lives, from the kind of medical advice we get, to the adverts we see, to our appraisals at work, to the way politicians try to win our votes and protect us from terrorist attacks. There's the robotic librarian using a combination of algebra and geometry to analyse thousands of press articles and blog posts in English.Then there are the mathematicians helping to map out advertising campaigns, changing the nature of research in newsrooms and in biology labs, enabling marketers to forge new one-on-one relationships with customers. Baker asks the fundamental question: If long articles full of twists and turns can be reduced to a mathematical essence, what's next? Will the power of mathematicians to make sense of personal data and to model the behaviour of individuals inevitably erode privacy?More and more of the world economy is falling into the realm of numbers. The Numerati is a book about one of the great undertakings of the 21st century - the mathematical modelling of humanity. Much in the same way as neuroscientists are mapping our brains, mathematicians are mapping our individual behaviour -- everything that makes the individual distinct. Stephen Baker navigates us through a world that otherwise might seem remote or disconnected, but one which is absolutely relevant to our everyday lives.
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Stephen Baker began covering technology for BusinessWeek as Paris-based European correspondent 1998. He moved to New York in 2002 as acting senior editor for info tech, and is now a senior writer. He is a leader in new media at BusinessWeek and coauthor of Blogspotting.net, a blog featured as one of the 50 blogs to watch by The New York Times.
"'The Numerati' is a kind of travelogue, a report from the shadowy regions where data mining, the search for new algorithms and the divination for the hidden meanings disclosed by our choices animates a type of research that was impossible to imagine before the computer . . . an interesting book . . . Baker knows well that the Numerati cannot answer the big questions, like where do we go from here? But perhaps they can help us avoid falling off whatever cliffs we decide to peer over."
There are people out there studying numbers - all about you.Coming about five years too late to really shock anybody, BusinessWeek contributor Baker's book about the "crack mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers" who are busy converting the billions of bits of data today's citizen leaves behind into usable information, is nevertheless a well-considered take on a hard-to-grasp subject. The propellerheads with whom Baker converses seem a pretty benign bunch, far from the Panopticon-loving Dr. Evils the conspiracy-evoking title suggests. The author effectively describes the oceans of information average Americans shoot out into the world merely by using their cell phones, laptops and credit cards. Once, gathering this kind of material required all the totalitarian ingenuity of a police state like East Germany. "Today," Baker notes, "we spy on our ourselves and send electronic updates minute by minute." But what's the use of all that data if there's nobody to decipher it? Answering that question occupies the bulk of the text, as the author interviews a wide range of the deep thinkers whose companies are finding new ways of mining, organizing and helping other firms monetize that data. Among the more interesting is Jeff Jonas, a tech prodigy now working at IBM, who created a software called NORA (non-obvious relationship awareness) that specializes in finding links between data strands that can locate anybody from a card cheat at a casino to an al-Qaeda deep-sleeper. Privacy seems not to be an issue for most of Baker's interviewees, who are more interested in finding out how supermarkets can better predict what their customers will buy. Although the author has a sure feel for his subject, his magazine-friendly prose and fairly uncritical immersion in this insiders' perspective begins to pall over the length of an entire book.Engaging, but not especially illuminating. (Kirkus Reviews)