The reason I started this blog was basically that I had been reading „Turing’s Cathedral“ about the life of John von Neumann by George Dyson. The reason I am writing about the book is that I am reading a biography about Alan Turing at the moment. If you add some Konrad Zuse here, you have the beginning of the digital age. I will focus mostly on the first part of the book about the invention of the digital. Whether machines will one day be able to replicate themselves will be left to transhumanism.
“What began as an isolated 5-kilobyte matrix is now expanding by over two trillion transistors per second (a measure of the growth in processing and memory) and five trillion bits of storage capacity per second (a measure of the growth in code). Yet we still face the same questions that were asked in 1953. Turing’s question was what it would take for machines to begin to think. Von Neumann’s question was what it would take for machines to begin to reproduce.”
I think there were only two more chapters to go, when I started to google the facts in Michael Lewis’ „Flashboys“. The story about a transparent exchange that fights intransparent market places and high-frequency traders (HFT) just seems unbelievable. But as promised by the author, all the characters really exist. Well, of course, it is a non-fiction book. But the inconceivability of the story unfolding, as well as the sheer amount of money shifted in HFT globally, and the way Lewis portrays the fight of Brad Katsuyama make it hard to believe. But I guess, it is just pretty well written.
„The unit of trading was now milliseconds, but the records kept by the exchanges were by the seconds. There were one million microseconds in a second. It was if, back in the 1920s, the only stock market data available was a crude aggregation of all trades made during the decade.“ (81)
What Ed Catmull is really doing in his book „Creativity Inc.“ is to provide a way how to deal with creative minds. Within Pixar he establishes structures, that help creative ideas and people survive despite criticism and changes. Becoming the president of Pixar, Catmull would devote himself to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture.“ The book is in his words „an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.“
We must acknowledge the random events that went our way, because acknowledging our good fortune – and not telling ourselves that everything we did was some stroke of genius – lets us make more realistic assessments and decisions. The existence of luck also reminds us that our activities are less repeatable. Since change is inevitable, the question is: Do you act to stop it and try to protect yourself from it, or do you become the master of change by accepting it and being open to it? My view, of course, ist hat working with change is what creativity is about. (166)
Daniel Kahnemann got the nobel prize for his study. And he wrote one of the most important books on behavioural economics – ever. Does this have anything to do with tech. Not at first. But it is all about intuition, analysis and formulas and how we make desicions based on gut feeling or rationality. And now that we are entering a more and more data- and metric-driven society, it is about time to think about why we are acting the way we do and what algorithms want us to do. One thing upfront: this book is awesome!
When Evgeny Morozov and Shoshana Zuboff already had a certain standing in Germany, Jaron Lanier was pretty much unknown. But he might just become the leader of the „We own our data“-movement of people such as Max Schrems. What Lanier does in his book is introducing the so called „Siren Servers“ and highlighting how we manage to ignore Terms and Conditions of online services and how these service providers trick us into not caring.
“We want free online experiences so badly that we are happy to not be paid for information that comes from us now or ever. That sensibility also implies that the more dominant information becomes in our economy, the less most of us will be worth.”
This is a weird read. The first two chapter are somehow hard to follow, but the book gets better and better. And especially the chapter „The Future of Revolution“ reads like a blueprint for the protests in Turkey, Brazil and China. What is it about? The main thesis of Eric Schmidt (former Google-CEO) and Jared Cohen (Director of Google Ideas) is that connectivity will change the world and they present how exactly this will take place.
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and his team managed to publish some impressing findings about network sciences in the millenium years. If you hear them today, you sometimes subconsciously conclude, that this all doesn’t sound to new. But only because of the reason, the results of the group were picked up so fast and answered so many pressing questions about links in society, biology or economics. The book „Linked“ is a summary of their findings and a setup for new researches.
If you are 30 years old or about to turn 30, you might still remember Boris Becker doing commercials for AOL. One day – in the mid-90ies the internet was here, and with it its culture. Why? Because the internet has just evolved organically from the day it was born – without much planning. Freedom and neutrality were always fostering principles, say Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon in „Where wizards stay up late“. This is the only way the internet could have been.
Nate Silver is the wunderkind of American media. On his blog FiveThirtyEight he managed to predict the outcome of the last US presidential election with a precision never seen before. Silver bases his estimation on the works of Thomas Bayes and his „Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances“. Silver’s success with this approach is astonishing and casts a shadow on the work of political pundits and experts. In “Signal and the Noise” he explains how he does that.
Paul Ormerod’s „Why most things fail“ was published in 2005. Before the subprime crisis, but nevertheless it is a crisis book, that deals with information, lack of information and „bounded rationality“ (Stieglitz / Akerlof). The question is the very basic „why do companies fail?“ – a welcome antonym to all sorts of overconfident management literature. And it seems to me it is he last book written before Big Data came to life. Ormerod leaves some barriers to decision-making and predictive analysis – these are exactly the barriers companies – such as Google or Amazon – try to break.