Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Numerati by Stephen Baker

The Numerati by Stephen Baker

This book is about measuring people. It visits the companies and individuals that are creating the mathematics to measure and track people. IBM is seeking to track all of its 50,000 workers using complex social networking software. The company, Umbria, has created software to track blogs. Casinos are trying to find cheats in the least intrusive way possible.

The Numerati tells the story of how you are a statistic which can be broken down into a category then tracked using mathematical algorithms. These algorithms see if you are a productive white collar worker, what you buy, how you vote, and what you write in your blog.

In addition, these numbers can become intrusive and be used to determine if you are terrorist or criminal, what your medical problems are, and who you might fall in love with. As they say, the only way to really insure your privacy is to not put it online or over a cell phone.

You have value as a mathematical commodity to many people. You get a supermarket discount card so the retailer can track what you buy filling up your cart with your weekly groceries. You receive a constant stream of junk mail based on what you buy online or over the phone. I regularly receive mailers from Haband because I buy from them online.

People exist in what is called the, "attention economy". Your attention has value. You might even pay money to a search engine optimization company to make your blog more visible on the web so more people will pay attention to it. I constantly ping my blog to make sure places like Technorati and Google know it has been updated.

What you do at work and on the web are monitored. There are now thousands of security cameras everywhere; in supermarkets, at the job, and on street. The government and private industry is both protecting and surveilling you. It has become an age of ubiquitous tracking.

This surveillance can be beneficial as well as harmful. In healthcare, it can monitor alzheimers patients, and check for future health problems. As things improve, you might live in a house with built in circuitry that checks your physical condition constantly.

I found this book insightful. It reminded me that I need to keep some control over where I spend my money and who I give my information to. I don't take surveys over the phone. Often, I will make purchases with cash. One of the reasons I often use the library is the records of what I read and watch are purged regularly. Library records can be supinaed. Making choices of how you are recorded is paramount in an attention economy.

I enjoyed reading this book. There is very little complex math in it. It also maintains a very neutral tone and does not sensationalize the subject. This makes the writing very accessible.


NathanKP said...

Wow! That sounds really neat. I'm studying calculus in college right now so I'm interested in complex math such as this.

I understand that this isn't a math book per say but it explains uses of math so it sounds interesting.


Book Calendar said...

It is quite interesting.