gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Computer Science

The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas

happiness effect

Sexting. Cyberbullying. Narcissism. Social media has become the dominant force in young people’s lives, and each day seems to bring another shocking tale of private pictures getting into the wrong hands, or a lament that young people feel compelled to share their each and every thought with the entire world. Have smartphones and social media created a generation of self-obsessed egomaniacs?
Absolutely not, Donna Freitas argues in this provocative book. And, she says, these alarmist fears are drawing attention away from the real issues that young adults are facing.
Drawing on a large-scale survey and interviews with students on thirteen college campuses, Freitas finds that what young people are overwhelmingly concerned with–what they really want to talk about–is happiness. They face enormous pressure to look perfect online–not just happy, but blissful, ecstatic, and fabulously successful. Unable to achieve this impossible standard, they are anxious about letting the less-than-perfect parts of themselves become public. Far from wanting to share everything, they are brutally selective when it comes to curating their personal profiles, and worry obsessively that they might unwittingly post something that could come back to haunt them later in life. Through candid conversations with young people from diverse backgrounds, Freitas reveals how even the most well-adjusted individuals can be stricken by self-doubt when they compare their experiences with the vast collective utopia that they see online. And sometimes, as on anonymous platforms like Yik Yak, what they see instead is a depressing cesspool of racism and misogyny. Yet young people are also extremely attached to their smartphones and apps, which sometimes bring them great pleasure. It is very much a love-hate relationship.
While much of the public’s attention has been focused on headline-grabbing stories, the everyday struggles and joys of young people have remained under the radar. Freitas brings their feelings to the fore, in the words of young people themselves. The Happiness Effect is an eye-opening window into their first-hand experiences of social media and its impact on them.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

Social media is all around us, whether we like it or not. No matter where you go, you will see people constantly checking their phones, taking selfies, or updating their Facebook status. I am one of those people who have spent a few minutes looking at my feed and thinking, “Everyone looks so happy – what am I doing wrong?”

I’m doing nothing wrong. I’m of a generation where I don’t feel pressure to put on a happy face to my peers. I don’t worry about what a potential employer might think of me, based on my social media output. For a change, I feel happy to not be a college student or a Millennial. The pressure (both internal and external) that this generation is under is immense. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to truly “be yourself” – because the whole world is watching.

The author interviewed a wide sampling of college students around the United States and put together their thoughts in this thought provoking book. Most of the interviewees spoke of selecting the best moments to share on FB, while saving the gossip and melancholy thoughts for sites that encourage anonymous postings. I learned about a site called Yik Yak, where there are no identities, and no boundaries. I also learned that when some students took a self-imposed “holiday” from their cellphones, it was like a vacation. They spoke of truly being in the moment, rather than recording it for their wall.

There was a chapter on relationships, and how students felt about hookup sites like Tinder. In an interesting juxtaposition to this theory by Simon Sinek (click here for video), Freitas notes that college students are very capable of socializing and meeting people, having complete and meaningful conversations with each other, and being empathetic. When they are around their friends, they don’t become awkward and seek to lose themselves in technology; they interact and communicate like any other generation. Sinek, on the other hand, claims that Millennials and future generations will be unable to communicate face to face, due to their smartphone addiction.

For me, the best part of the book was the last 2 chapters, where the author fleshes out her theories and explains her thought process. I support her suggestions of wi-fi free zones, and professors requiring a basket for cellphone “parking” during classes. I also applauded the inclusion of different races and religions, providing needed diversity and showing the reader how circumstances were different from one person to another.

The interviews were informative, and sometimes shocking,  but at times they became repetitive and clogged the flow of information. Perhaps if she organized the book differently, it would have been a bit shorter. She did summarize each chapter at the end, while allowing the thoughts and quotes from each interviewee to illustrate her theories.

One thought that kept occurring to me was how happy I was to be older in today’s world, as I mentioned before. It’s a shame that technology has become such a big part in our lives; I can only hope the human race does not become lost.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0190239859″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Magic And Loss by Virginia Heffernan

magic-and-loss

Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. As an idea, it rivals monotheism. We all inhabit this fascinating place. But its deep logic, its cultural potential, and its societal impact often elude us. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does.
Life online, in the highly visual, social, portable, and global incarnation rewards certain virtues. The new medium favors speed, accuracy, wit, prolificacy, and versatility, and its form and functions are changing how we perceive, experience, and understand the world.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book for review!

To say, “All that is old is new again,” is that same as saying the inverse: “All that is new is old, again.” Note the comma. For Virginia Heffernan, the author of the highly-cerebral Magic and Loss, the critical characteristic of new technologies that supplant their predecessors is not whatever category by which they are categorically different from their parentages. Instead of committing the intellectually lazy act of declaring that a boundary separating incrementalism from interspectralism has been overcome, she presents the compelling thesis that our tech does little to change what is fundamental to our social consciousness. For all time, our technology has been an imperfect mirror.

From the invention of controlled fire up to the present, that mirror has become increasingly exacting in the image of ourselves that it produces. In the United States alone, this mirror now employs over 110,000 miles of heavy fiber-optic cable, and millions of miles of regional and local cable lines. It promotes the easy, pervasive distribution of photos, videos, and alarming, clickbaiting articles. It provides no built-in buffer time for public expression or reactive thoughts and feelings. Pariahs who would have lived in the shadows a generation ago now enjoy the warmth of like minds. Together, they take their seats at the table of public discourse. If we look different today than we did before the internet, it’s because we can see ourselves my clearly. The mirror changed. We did not.

This point, and many others which are related and equally profound, are trotted out in Magic and Loss with language that is never more vigorous than the subject matter seems to warrant. There is a maturity in the voice of this book that lends extra weight to sentences that contain a blow, that serrates the edges of words that cut. Early on, she quotes author Bruce Sterling: “Poor folk love their cell phones.” Heffernan comments: “Connectivity is poverty, eh? Only the poor, defined broadly as those without better options, are obsessed with connections… The connections that feel like wealth to many of us – call us the impoverished, we who brave Facebook ads and privacy concerns – are in fact meager, more meager even than inflated dollars.”

Every word cuts, and especially so if she’s describing you. She’s not cutting for the sake of cutting. She cutting so that you’ll understand that you’re involved in the issues she’s talking about. Heffernan cuts sparingly, but when she does, no word is chosen arbitrarily. That you are more meager than the inflated dollar that pays for your eyeballs should remind you that you aren’t even the consumer. You’re the product.

Finally, Heffernan’s writing is dripping with only the best influences. She quotes Walter Benjamin multiple times, and the structure of the overall work feels like what part of The Arcades Project might have been like had Benjamin lived to finish it. She drops series of short sentences here and there that taste like passages of Theodore Adorno’s Minima Moralia. What an intellectual joy to read this book was!

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1439191700″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Are the Androids Dreaming Yet? by James Tagg

sas Cover.indd

Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do? Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, “most intelligent being on the planet”. They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell’s inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen ‘Free Will’ Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?

James Tagg is an inventor and entrepreneur. A pioneer of touchscreen technology, he has founded several companies, including Truphone, the world’s first global mobile network. He holds numerous patents, filed in over a hundred countries. He studied Physics and Computer Science at Manchester University, Design at Lancaster University and Engineering at Cambridge University. He lives with his family on a farm in Kent, England.

 

ARE THE ANDROIDS DREAMING YET? attempts to introduce the lay reader to the landscape of issues surrounding human intelligence and its congruence, or lack thereof, with human intelligence. The author makes an earnest attempt to achieve his goal, and a layperson’s understanding of topics ranging from probability theory to quantum electrodynamics. The tone is light, and each topic is rounded out in just one short chapter. Each chapter concludes with an explanation of how its contents pertain to the way we perceive the relationship between human and machine intelligence. For those who are uninitiated to these topics, the explanations suffice. Such a reader will come out of these segments feeling that they have come to understand something that had previously been far over their heads.

While it is a great thing to bring understanding of complex topics to a lay readership, the unavoidable problem is that the shallowness of the introductions to these topics does not give the reader the tools necessary to follow the author from premise to conclusion. The worst that this problem brings to bear is that the book does not sufficiently address the fact that the conclusions presented are highly contentious in the eyes of professionals in their respective fields. For each mathematical and scientific alcove the author guides the reader through, he seems always to present the conclusion that points most strongly toward human cognition being non-computable. I get the feeling that the author decided before putting pen to paper that he wanted to show that human minds really are special, and then set out to find examples to support him. Nothing in this book indicates that he did the scientifically honest thing: looking at the literature first, and going from there. It doesn’t matter how fringe or mainstream the theory is. If that theory can be twisted to put human beings back in the center of the universe, then you can learn about it by reading this book!

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the importance of recognizing future AIs as having rights and being deserving of respect, just as any flesh-and-bones creature capable of love, fear, pain, and pleasure is. At the end of the last chapter, the author suggests that we shouldn’t worry about such things since, in 100 years, we probably still won’t be able to fashion an AI. I believe that this sentiment betrays an awesome lack of understanding regarding the power of recursive/iterative development patterns. Humans will not create the first AI. The first AI will probably create itself by means understood by some several dozen people, each of which understand some fraction of the process by which it happened, none understanding it in full. Just as I cannot judge you by your neurobiology because the entirety of your neurobiology is beyond my capacity to comprehend, likewise, we cannot judge the fitness of an AI to deserve rights we reserve for humans because the basis of its being “alive” is not within the possibility of comprehension of any person. Therefore, we simply have to hand those rights over. We also need to have a conversation about AI rights very quickly. Such an intelligence is fast approaching, in spite of the author’s assurance that humans minds perform processes that are non-computable (nonsense!), and that we perform various mental functions that cannot be translated into algorithms and logical circuits (also nonsense).

My final assessment of ANDROIDS is that lay readers will enjoy the expositions of niche topics in science, math, physics, computer science, and philosophy very much, and there is plenty of food for thought here. I would, however, advise savvy readers to keep a keen eye out for fishy-smelling claims and overused superlatives. If something seems odd, Google it.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1910464031″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

© 2019 gimmethatbook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑