[Review] Hello World by Hannah Fry

“Because the future doesn’t just happen. We create it.”

Hannah Fry

What does a world run by AI look like?

 What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go right?

And with all that technology, how do we retain our human ethics, morals and traditions?

These are some of the questions Hannah Fry seeks to answer in her fantastic book Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms.

What is Hello World By Hannah Fry about?

The book is broken up into several parts, each covering an area in which AI can revolutionise the process, from the obvious areas, such as self -driving cars, to the less obvious, such as the legal system.

Fry explains the exciting possibilities and research going on which would allow a complete overhaul the current, human ways of doing things. She talks about how machine-learning could help doctors detect breast cancer and how AI could make the justice system fairer. As it turns out, humans aren’t that consistent. For example, Judges are more likely to find a defendant guilty and dish out harsher punishments just before lunch.

However, as the book was published a few months after true extent of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2018, the book is also critical about the failures and shortcomings of AI. Algorithms are only as good as the humans who build them, and the data we put through them, meaning biases can slip through. We are still decades away from true artificial intelligence.

“…using algorithms as a mirror to reflect the real world isn’t always helpful, especially when the mirror is reflecting a present reality that only exists because of centuries of bias.”

Hannah Fry

What Did I Like About Hello World?

When I see something about maths or algorithms, I tend to run the other way. But, I had a Uni assignment about the misuse of data and AI, and a friend kindly recommended some books. So, I picked it up and I’m so glad I did.

Fry’s way of explaining things made the book so easy to follow. It’s aimed at people who are new to the world of Algorithms, AI and Machine-Learning, so it’s worded in a simple way, and concepts are carefully explained. But, there’s no patronising tone or gate-keeping as I’ve found with some entry-level books.

I also loved the way Fry carefully navigates through the pros and cons of each area. There’s no hard learning either way, and it’s up to the reader to make up their mind about AI. You can’t ignore Fry’s obvious and infectious enthusiasm for all things machine, and by the end of the book, you’ll be excited too. But she’s also very realistic about the negative side of AI, without being over-dramatic. She explains how far we still need to go, and how hard us humans need to work before we can get to true AI that enhances our lives, rather than running them.

Lessons Learnt From Hello World

  1. AI is only as good as the information we feed into it, and we need to work on our biases, prejudices and processes before we can let an algorithm learn from past examples.
  2. “The future doesn’t just happen, we create it” is a phrase I need written on my wall
  3. Humans must work with AI to come to sensible decisions, rather than blindly following AI recommendations.
  4. When using AI and Data, I need to think critically about what’s going into the algorithm so that it learns healthy habits.

I read this book as part of my 2021 reading challenge on Goodreads (and as part of my Big Hairy Audacious Goals to read 500 books.). I’d love to connect with you on Goodreads! Follow my account here.