Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code makers and breakers to dominate the world.

Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough



Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

By Christopher Steiner

Narrated by Walter Dixon


With the subtitle—”How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World”, Christopher Steiner’s Automate This is hyperbolic. Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code makers and breakers to dominate the world.

Social and political science have not reached a state of measurement and predictable outcome that reaches Karl Popper’s criteria for science. Popper’s requirement for empirical falsification is not achievable with social and political algorithms because falsification has little relevance.  Social and political analysis, even with the use of algorithms, is not science.

Taking Steiner’s word that a Quant predicted some of the Middle East conflicts is not enough evidence to suggest algorithms rule the world.

(Steiner notes that Mubarak’s ouster and Arab Spring were predicted in advance by a Quant.) Steiner also explains how algorithms are used for personality qualification of astronauts. The idea is to profile astronauts to mitigate conflicts between humans in confined quarters during space travel. The profile is to predict potential conflicts and wash out any astronaut candidate that might mutiny during a long voyage.

Profiling is not new.  It is a technique used by branches of the military, and by many governments, and corporations.  Certainly, it is more comprehensively done today with computers but a high degree of error remains.

 Steiner’s anecdotes of chess players, astronaut conflicts, and poker game predictions using algorithms suggests promise, but algorithm use remains a far cry from ruling the world.

Steiner’s history of algorithm growth is a cautionary tale. At one extreme, there is a vision of a brave new world where privacy is impossible and human manipulation inevitable.  At the other extreme, is Ray Kurzweil’s singularity where genetically enhanced humans gain algorithmic capability through a meld of humans and robots.

Steiner offers examples of algorithms that have enhanced good and bad behavior in humans. Algorithms have improved customer service for aggrieved consumers by customizing responses for defective products and services. When an automated voice receives a customer’s complaint, an algorithm analyzes the nature (words and demeanor) of the customer’s aggravation and forwards a customer’s call to a person that can help resolve the complaint.

QUANTS–COMPUTER TECHNICIANS WHO CREATED MORTGAGE BACKED DERIVATIVES. With the advent of computer technology, the added assets in derivative instruments became so complex that individual human judgement of value is clouded.

The 2007-2008 financial crash is caused by financial derivatives designed by Quants using algorithms that multiplied the effect of human greed; i.e. millions of people were financially destroyed by unregulated financial securities, created by financial analyst’ algorithms.

Of particular interest is Steiner’s explanation of algorithm impact on jobs. Like the industrial revolution, the world’s work force will dramatically change with continued automation.

 More product production will be automated through algorithms that manipulate machines to do the work formerly done by humans. Steiner believes primary growth industries will be ruled by technology. No jobs will be unaffected by algorithms.

Steiner notes that even medical services for common colds and routine visits will be served by algorithmic analysis and drug prescription services. Code hackers will be offered great job opportunities. Call centers will become bigger employers but even those jobs will be increasingly handled by algorithms that minimize employee involvement.


A conclusion one may draw from Steiner’s book is that middle managers of call centers, sales people for algorithmic products, teachers, personal service providers, and organization executives will be in demand but many traditional labor positions will disappear.

Steiner’s book is a recruitment tool for today’s and tomorrow’s code hackers. That is where new jobs will be created. Steiner suggests that young and future populations should plan to acquire basic math skills, learn code, and plan for a future of automation and exploration.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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