Books

Book Review: The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create More by Luke Dormehl

Like it or not, algorithms are an integral part of our lives. They govern our systems, influence our behavior and use of time, better our health and relationships, and make us spend our money on things we might not need or want. Here we are stuck with them despite what our personal opinions might be. They are not going away anytime soon because they have their use, making processing information a lot easier, efficient, and useful. So what to think about them?

The Formula briefly describes how algorithms impact our lives: their part in finding a partner, measuring health, and making movies. And when I say briefly, I mean it. The book jumps from one topic to another, discussing how algorithms have helped better our lives by letting us understand our personal medical data, giving better information than doctors can, and stating how algorithms have devastating and unintended consequences due to poor programming. The writer shows the success and failures of algorithms and how they are used in our modern society case by case, giving no clear answer if to be for or against them. But it would be a fool’s errand to make such a statement, as the issue is not if to be for or against algorithms. The question is more about how they are made, how their quality should be monitored, and what part of our lives they should influence. Important questions I think the book should have asked.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. This is a lost opportunity to take a deep dive into the issue. This book is more of a curiosity or introduction to the topic. So this is not a book for someone who has already read about algorithms, is interested in how they are made, the history of the subject, or reading about detailed arguments for and against them. That said, I found the book entertaining even when I would have liked a more thorough analysis. It still provoked me to consider again what I know about algorithms, how I see them, and how we should handle the issue that they do govern our world and behavior; crucial questions to consider as independent companies and coders make them for a paycheck, and they are not exactly experts in love, societal issues, or healthcare. We as a society will have to ask how to ensure the algorithms do what they are intended to do, how to monitor them, who can make them and govern them, and what subjects are off limits.

All of us should be more aware of how algorithms are used and made and how they function. It is not an issue we can shrug off. 

Thank you for reading, and have a great day ❤

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