Sunday, May 24, 2009

Books I've read recently

Due to my adoption of Twitter for micro blogging, I neglected my 1000-words-plus-posts blog. (There's also that nagging "work" thing associated with the "earning a living" thing.) Here are some short booknotes on recent readings, in no particular order:

Daemon by Daniel Suarez. Neuromancer for the 2010 decade, but with much better research than Gibson's genre-changing opus. Unlike other recent cyberpunk books, it's not politicking with a monomolecular-thin veneer of technology on top. It's a technology-driven story that twists and turns mostly with the unfolding of an AI's plan. Strongest candidate for my preferred fiction book of the year; almost as good as Stephenson's Anathem.

Beyond Human by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre. A fun read peppered with sci-fi examples, this book summarizes some contemporary advances in our evolution into cyborgs. It also raises and attempts to answer some questions about social, economic, and ethical issues prompted by the change from homo sapiens sapiens to homo sapiens machina.

The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr. This book raises some interesting questions to which it proposes what I believe are mostly wrong answers. Getting the right answers requires broad technical business knowledge and is a monetizable skill. [To be continued, possibly on dead tree.]

Animal Spirits by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller. A good summary of both old and recent research on Behavioral Economics, by two authors who really know their Economics. My only criticism is that they make an implicit assumption that government is the solution to market inefficiency. Instead we should compare the cost of market inefficiency with the cost of government intervention in the market. Governments can be very inefficient as well.

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee. Thought-provoking book on how understanding the structure of the brain is key to understanding how intelligence happens. Full of interesting ideas and worked-through examples. Sanjiv Das recommended it and I put it on my "someday" reading list, reading it after this tweet by Michael Driscoll. Maybe it was an anti-Gladwell knee-jerk response, but it was worth it.

The Art Of Intrusion by Kevin Mitnick. Be afraid; be very afraid. Most of our beliefs regarding safety and security are wrong; mostly because of people and policies, not technology. Mitnick depicts several different types of attack on corporate security and includes examples of counter-measures. The scary part is how much security is an attitude, not a service or product, and how many people don't understand that.

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Very good overview of Behavioral Decision Theory research. But, like their title suggests, they go beyond the descriptive and become prescriptive. I believe that their well-meaning idea of libertarian paternalism fails because in reality those who would use "nudges" to soft-enforce their choices on others eventually move towards limited choice sets and hard enforcement (link goes to David Friedman's blog).