Book Bits | 11 January 2020

Risk, Choice, and Uncertainty: Three Centuries of Economic Decision-Making
By George G. Szpiro
Summary via publisher (Columbia U. Press)
At its core, economics is about making decisions. In the history of economic thought, great intellectual prowess has been exerted toward devising exquisite theories of optimal decision making in situations of constraint, risk, and scarcity. Yet not all of our choices are purely logical, and so there is a longstanding tension between those emphasizing the rational and irrational sides of human behavior. One strand develops formal models of rational utility maximizing while the other draws on what behavioral science has shown about our tendency to act irrationally. In Risk, Choice, and Uncertainty, George G. Szpiro offers a new narrative of the three-century history of the study of decision making, tracing how crucial ideas have evolved and telling the stories of the thinkers who shaped the field.

Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance
By Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
Finance is an inescapable part of American life. From how one pursues an education, buys a home, runs a business, or saves for retirement, finance orders the lives of ordinary Americans. And as finance continues to expand, inequality soars. In Divested, Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely demonstrate why widening inequality cannot be understood without examining the rise of big finance. The growth of the financial sector has dramatically transformed the American economy by redistributing resources from workers and families into the hands of owners, executives, and financial professionals. The average American is now divested from a world driven by the maximization of financial profit.

The Fall of the Human Empire: Memoirs of a Robot
By Charles-Edouard Bouée
Summary via publisher (Bloomsbury)
Two trends are coming together: exponential growth in the processing power of supercomputers, and new software which can copy the way neurons in the human brain work and give machines the ability to learn. Smart systems will soon be commonplace in homes, businesses, factories, administrations, hospitals and the armed forces. How autonomous will they be? How free to make decisions? What place will human beings still have in a world controlled by robots? After the atom bomb, is artificial intelligence the second lethal weapon capable of destroying mankind, its inventor? The Fall of the Human Empire traces the little-known history of artificial intelligence from the standpoint of a robot called Lucie. She–or it?–recounts her adventures and reveals the mysteries of her long journey with humans, and provides a thought-provoking storyline of what developments in A.I. may mean for both humans and robots.

The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century
By Adam Davidson
Interview with author via WBUR
The economy is changing — and writer Adam Davidson says that means we need to change the way we think about work.
Davidson wants people to embrace what he calls the “passion economy.” In his book published Tuesday, “The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century,” the New Yorker writer explains how this economy creates opportunities for people to use unique skills and interests to create new kinds of businesses and find fulfilling careers.

The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth
By Samuel Woolley
Summary via publisher (PublicAffairs)
Online disinformation stormed our political process in 2016 and has only worsened since. Yet as Samuel Woolley shows in this urgent book, it may pale in comparison to what’s to come: humanlike automated voice systems, machine learning, “deepfake” AI-edited videos and images, interactive memes, virtual reality, and more. These technologies have the power not just to manipulate our politics, but to make us doubt our eyes and ears and even feelings. Deeply researched and compellingly written, The Reality Game describes the profound impact these technologies will have on our lives. Each new invention built without regard for its consequences edges us further into this digital dystopia.

The State of Economics, the State of the World
Edited by Kaushik Basu, et al.
Summary via publisher (MIT Press)
More than a decade of financial crises, sovereign debt problems, political conflict, and rising xenophobia and protectionism has left the global economy unsettled and the ability of economics as a discipline to account for episodes of volatility uncertain. In this book, leading economists consider the state of their discipline in a world of ongoing economic and political crises.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters
By Kate Murphy
Summary via publisher (Celadon/Macmillan)
Despite living in a world where technology allows constant digital communication and opportunities to connect, it seems no one is really listening or even knows how. And it’s making us lonelier, more isolated, and less tolerant than ever before. A listener by trade, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy wanted to know how we got here.