Book Bits | 19 May 2018

● The Book of Why:
The New Science of Cause and Effect

By Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie
Summary via publisher (Basic Books)
Correlation is not causation.” This mantra, chanted by scientists for more than a century, has led to a virtual prohibition on causal talk. Today, that taboo is dead. The causal revolution, instigated by Judea Pearl and his colleagues, has cut through a century of confusion and established causality–the study of cause and effect–on a firm scientific basis. His work explains how we can know easy things, like whether it was rain or a sprinkler that made a sidewalk wet; and how to answer hard questions, like whether a drug cured an illness. Pearl’s work enables us to know not just whether one thing causes another: it lets us explore the world that is and the worlds that could have been. It shows us the essence of human thought and key to artificial intelligence.

Central Banking in Turbulent Times
By Tuomas Valimaki and Francesco Papadia
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Central banks came out of the Great Recession with increased power and responsibilities. Indeed, central banks are often now seen as ‘the only game in town’, and a place to put innumerable problems vastly exceeding their traditional remit. These new powers do not fit well, however, with the independence of central banks, remote from the democratic control of government. Central Banking in Turbulent Times examines fundamental questions about the central banking system, asking whether the model of an independent central bank devoted to price stability is the final resting point of a complex development that started centuries ago. It dissects the hypothesis that the Great Recession has prompted a reassessment of that model; a renewed emphasis on financial stability has emerged, possibly vying for first rank in the hierarchy of objectives of central banks. This raises the risk of dilemmas, since the Great Recession brought into question implicit assumptions that the pursuit of price stability would also lead to financial stability.

The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation
By Darrell M. West
Interview with author via Brookings Institution
Robots, artificial intelligence, and driverless cars are no longer things of the distant future. They are with us today and will become increasingly common in coming years, along with virtual reality and digital personal assistants. As these tools advance deeper into everyday use, they raise questions regarding the transformation of society, the economy, and politics. If companies need fewer workers due to automation and robotics, what happens to those who don’t have the skills for new jobs? And in terms of the political consequences, will the disruptions associated with new technologies and new business models produce a chaotic era of Trumpism on steroids? On May 14, Brookings Vice President Darrell West debuted his book, “The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation.” In it, he argues that society needs to rethink the concept of jobs, reconfigure the social contract, move toward a system of lifetime learning, and develop a new kind of politics for an era of economic dislocation. With the U.S. governance system in shambles because of political polarization and hyper-partisanship, dealing creatively with the transition to a fully digital economy will vex political leaders and complicate the adoption of remedies that could ease the transition pain.

Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict
By Phil A. Neel
Summary via publisher (Reaktion Books)
Over the last forty years, the landscape of the United States has been fundamentally transformed. It is partially visible in the ascendance of glittering, coastal hubs for finance, infotech and the so-called ‘creative class’. But this is only the tip of an economic iceberg, the bulk of which lies in the darkness of the declining heartland or on the dimly lit fringe of sprawling cities. This is America’s Hinterland, populated by towering grain-threshing machines and hunched farmworkers, where labourers drawn from every corner of the world crowd into factories and ‘fulfilment centres’. Driven by an ever-expanding crisis, America’s class structure is recomposing itself in new geographies of race, poverty and production.

Superminds: The Surprising Power of People and Computers Thinking Together
By Thomas W. Malone
Review via Kirkus Review
Forget artificial intelligence. Instead, think collective intelligence, putting “AI in combination with humans who provide whatever skills and general intelligence the machines don’t yet have themselves.” It’s not so much that the machines are going to supplant us, writes Malone (Management/MIT; The Future of Work, 2004), the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. It’s that machines aren’t quite capable—yet—of thinking in ways that humans do, just as machines can perform calculations that it would take generations of human thinkers to complete. Add IT to human brainpower, and you’ve got a supermind—with the operative notion being that the machines are aids to a collective of human thinkers who illustrate, in case after case, that “almost all of our important problems are solved by groups of people, rather than by individuals alone.”