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The Numerati

The Numerati

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3.47

(86)
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Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Companies like Yahoo! and Google are harvesting an average of 2,500 details about each of us every month. Who is looking at this data and what are they doing with it? Journalist Stephen Baker explores these questions and provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're entering—and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, voters, potential terrorists—and lovers. The implications are vast. Privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor our every move. Retailers can better tempt us to make impulse buys. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Entertaining and enlightening, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor—the mathematical modeling of humanity—will transform every aspect of our lives.
Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Companies like Yahoo! and Google are harvesting an average of 2,500 details about each of us every month. Who is looking at this data and what are they doing with it? Journalist Stephen Baker explores these questions and provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're entering—and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, voters, potential terrorists—and lovers. The implications are vast. Privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor our every move. Retailers can better tempt us to make impulse buys. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Entertaining and enlightening, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor—the mathematical modeling of humanity—will transform every aspect of our lives.

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Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Aug 21, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:0618784608
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09/17/2013

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0618784608

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ffortsa reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I'm not sure why I picked this up from a remainder table, but I think the reviews were moderately interesting. Baker gives a galloping tour of today's efforts to understand and categorize people by gathering and quantifying all the digital fingerprints we leave every day on the web, in various databases from credit cards to governments to grocery stores. Easy to read, breezy - but ultimately it reads like a series of articles for the Sunday Times Magazine section. I found little I didn't know.
cbobbitt_4 reviewed this
The chapters about how supermarkets use data provide the most concrete information. Other chapters generalize too much about the kind of information different businesses and agencies use in marketing and record-keeping. Without adding lots of equations and mathematical terminology, Baker could have explained more how groups use data.
hukes_1 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Magazine-like writing and shallow attack on subjects. Not bad, but not an engrosssing book. For the casual readers who'd like to know a bit (just a bit) about what math can be used for in the internetz.
figre reviewed this
Rated 4/5
This is an interesting exploration of numbers, data, and how the morass of information now available is being used in all walks of life to learn about each of us. The author has talked with a number of people who are in the business of using that information for various purposes. Ranging from shopping to voting to terrorism to love, he has done a good job of finding the various applications that exist.I just have two issues. Fist, the book suffers from a fault that seems to exist with many books written by reporters – the need to provide capsule descriptions of the people being interviewed; descriptions that are as clichéd as they are brief. As a reader I don’t really care about these snapshots; I just care about the research and work that is being done. But I guess you have to do what you have to do in order to hit a couple of hundred pages.The second issue is not so much about the book as the results that are coming from the research. In the Conclusion I found my own concerns echoed. With so much information, are people proving something important, or just proving what they already believe to be true. Be that as it may, it is evident that, just like the researchers, this book only scratches the surface of what is out there. And the one thing it does well is start the reader thinking about what else could be or is already being done. It is a thought-provoking book that provides the perfect introduction to a newly emerging concept.
carlie_3 reviewed this
Math is everywhere and anything can be counted, including us and our behaviors. In fact, whether we realize it or not, our actions and behaviors are being counted right now at this minute by mostly unknown and unseen Numerati. The Numerati are the math geniuses of today, creating algorithms and writing computer code that can place each one of us into buckets of data. These buckets are inhabited by people that are grouped together for one reason or another - who we communicate with, grocery purchases, voting patterns, and the list goes on and on.Being counted is nothing new, but the scale on which are now being counted is phenomenal. So much data is collected on each of us constantly; in order to make sense of this data, mathematical formulas and computer algorithms are needed to siphon out which parts go together and which ones don't. Of course, most attempts at predicting and altering human behavior have shortcomings and miscalculations, but not enough to stop hundreds of companies from researching and tweaking us as numbers.I found the blogger chapter the most intriguing. Baker discusses techniques that companies are using to find out who we, as bloggers, are. In order to do this, real live people must read blog upon blog to analyze words used, sentence structure, and topics discussed to determine our age, gender, and affiliations. Then, they input all of these semantic clues into a computer program and test it to see if the computer's diagnosis corresponds to the human's. They then re-figure, re-write, and re-test until the program gets it right or close enough. Inevitably, it takes numerous trials before they have a working product. So why do companies want to find out who these bloggers are? The simple answer: marketing and consumer insights. It may not be the most precise method, but analyzing blogs provides one of the most immediate techniques to find out what people are saying about a product or service.This book was fascinating from start to finish. While Baker's main point is in the myriad ways that a new class of math geniuses is using technology to figure us out, he writes from a business perspective. Who are these companies that count us and why are they counting? If the numbers are so imprecise many times, why bother? With all of this number crunching becoming evermore prevalent and important to marketers, political candidates, national security, doctors, and even match-makers, what will I, as a non-Numerati, do in the world to come? I take solace in Baker's final thoughts:"Spending all this time among the Numerati, I've found myself wondering what jobs the rest of the world will handle in an economy dominated by calculations. Now it occurs to me: it's up to us to help them find the keys. The mathematicians and computer scientists create magic but only if their formulas contain real, meaningful information from the physical world we inhabit. That's the way it's always been, and even as they mine truckloads of data, it's a team effort." Let's hope he's right, and let's also hope we are prepared to educate America to be the next generation of Numerati because we're going to need them.
flourishing_1 reviewed this
Rated 2/5
An enjoyable, light nonfiction book. Nothing in it was "news" to me, but then, I live and work with this stuff every day and probably see a lot more of it than most people (MIT's media scholars are featured prominently in it). It wasn't a fear-mongering kind of book, which I really appreciated, and it introduced me to a couple new technologies that I didn't realize were in the works (especially ones for health monitoring: I've considered buying a Body Bugg, and I'm excited to someday be able to monitor my health more closely, so it was neat to read about 'magic carpets' and so on.)
pweidema_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
Interesting and well written book on many of the potential uses of the data that we are feeding daily into our computerized resources. I hadn't really thought about the fact that, beyond just computer use, this now includes cell phones, cars, credit and shoppers cards. Beyond the potential for abuse (identity theft, lack of privacy) scientists use the datastreams to study our behavior in new ways - if they can sort out the critical pieces!
b3agleboy reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Everything you do with your credit cards, your cell phone, your online habits, etc. generates lots of data. Although it can be difficult to put all of it together to get an idea of you as a consumer (whether it is of groceries, politics, health care, or online dating), there are people who are doing it. Even more difficult is generating predictive models of an aggregate of consumers broken down into various groups, but again there are those (usually mathematicians) who are doing it. That is the premiss of this book.The book is an good overview of these topics and the people/companies who are doing this kind of work. Personally I would have liked a bit more crunchy bits (an intro to some of the math and regression analysis used), but I can understand that this wouldn't be for everyone. Through other reading and experience, I was already familiar with many of the concepts discussed in the book. I did learn one new thing, which is that a person's sentence structure (such as when they are writing a review) can be analyzed to determine demographic data about the writer.If you are a data geek who reads news about data geek and business topics, then you can probably skip this book. However, for anyone with a passing interest in how the data you generate is used, then this would be a good read.
wvlibrarydude reviewed this
Rated 4/5
A very interesting study of the different ways that mathematics is being used to map out our behavior, health, voting habits, spending and relationships. No mathematics involved here, but it is a decent discussion of how the mathematics is being used. I was a little taken back on how little was written on the privacy provisions, and how many of our financial groups (insurance companies) may start using this data without our say, and penalizing people unfairly. More could also have been discussed on good vs. bad information.Overall, a good read that blew me away with how much was currently being done and the avenues that are being explored to map out humanity.
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