Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Automate this

If there is one thing I love about the summer holidays it is having the time to catch up on some recreational reading. The first book I read this summer was called Automate this: How algorithms came to rule the world, by Christopher Steiner.

Automate This tells of how the use of modern algorithms began in Wall Street to give slight trading advantages and is now spreading to every area of human endeavour. With each spread, the story seems to be the same; people first say that the algorithm will never be able to replace the work of real people and in each area, it appears, the algorithms always win, disrupting entire industries.

There are some comical and terrifying tales, like the book on Amazon that reached a sale price of over $1000000 due to 2 competing algorithms, stories of money vanishing in the finance world and some beautiful classical music written by algorithms.

As a teacher, this book really gave me food for thought. When I was training to be a Science teacher and revisions were being made to the UK National Curriculum, a component called 'How Science Works' was introduced. The idea being that all students would be consumers of Science and its fruits whereas only a minority would go on to be Scientists. It therefore made sense to teach students about the scientific method and how science impacts on society.
Compare the revisions to the UK Science curriculum with what is happening with ICT/Computer Studies education. Lot's of students leave school with zero knowledge of code or knowledge of the impact that it will have on them and society. It is absolutely imperative that schools try to catch up and formally introduce the teaching of code to students, or at least teach them about how it will impact on their lives.
During the summer, I also had a slight problem with a hotel I was staying at and called the travel company to complain. I got the usual message "this call may be recorded for training and moitoring purposes". It is nice to know after reading this book that what that really means is that an algorithm is analysing your voice and detecting your mood so that it can assign you to the most suitable agent to minimise conflict.


Post a Comment