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Ian Ayres

Super Crunchers

We all know that computers are becoming ubiquitous in our society. But you may not realise that they are doing more than just assisting current decision processes. In Super Crunchers Ian Ayres shows how much they are bringing about a huge change in the way decisions are made. The book starts with an example of how the future value of wine may be predicted using a simple formula based on the nature of the growing season - and how this is often beating the expert opinion. Now that so much data is available, the number crunching approach is taking hold in many important areas of our life, such as medicine and government as well as most large businesses.

Naturally the experts resist their place being usurped by a machine, but Ayres shows that often the supposed expert intuition is just no match for data crunching. I felt however, that Ayres could have given more consideration to the other problems of a number crunching approach. For instance, he shows how simple metrics might be used to predict which books will be bestsellers, but even before the use of computers many in the publishing industry deplored the tendency towards a few large firms fighting over a few bestsellers. And Ayres is too dismissive of the idea that as people get to know the algorithms they will try to 'cheat the system' - something against which Google have to fight a continuous battle. But although the book is lacking in such analysis, it's certainly worth reading in order to be prepared for the ever increasing involvement of such data crunching in our lives.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews