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Review of Null States, by Malka Older

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Title: Null States

Author: Malka Older

Publisher: MacMillan Tor/Forge

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-765-39338-8

Length: 432

Price: $25.99

Rating: 100%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

Null States continues the storyline Malka Older inaugurated in Infomocracy, where a substantial number of the world’s countries have adopted microdemocracy, a system based on groupings of 100,000 citizens called centenals. Centenal governments include easily recognizable proxies for existing conservative, liberal, green, corporate, and national entities. This book, Older’s second novel, is a well-written near-future thriller with action that ranges throughout the world, encompassing states that adopted microdemocracy and those that did not.

One hallmark of microdemocracy is the adoption of Information, a version of the contemporary Internet that includes easy access to fact-checked information and video feeds from almost every public area within the system. Countries, or segments of countries, that chose not to adopt microdemocracy are called null states. As the book’s title suggests, the action in Older’s sequel includes states that chose to stay outside Information’s coverage.

Middle of the Action

The action starts in a city within a centenal within the DarFur region of the former Sudan. The DarFur government, which controls several centenals, only adopted microdemocracy for the most recent ten-year election cycle. The focal characters, who are different than the leads in Infomocracy (though they do show up later in the book), are part of a Specialized Voter Action Tactics team sent to support the new government. The governor gets blown up on his way to meeting in the town and the action starts.

Older brings her experience as a relief worker to the fore, capturing the physical environment and cultural sensibilities of peoples outside the developed world. For example, even though DarFur adopted microdemocracy, neither the government nor the people have fully embraced it or, critically, Information. This distrust, which provides substantial leverage for the story’s antagonists, invokes themes of cultural imperialism, long-burning conflicts that transcend national or centenal borders, and fierce independence. Switzerland, for example, has remained unaligned and outside the reach of Information’s nearly omnipresent video feeds. Older captures the feeling of unease and threat when Mishima, the female protagonist from Infomocracy, travels to Switzerland to investigate a lead. Outside of Information coverage and easy contact with her usual support team, she’s on her own in unfriendly territory.

Null States also addresses the language of the developed and developing world. At one point in the novel, a character gently corrects a colleague who used the term “null states”, saying that it’s demeaning. The original speaker disagrees, arguing in effect that it’s a neutral descriptive term, but Older’s comment on using the word “null” to imply that otherness equals irrelevance or, worse, non-existence, is spot on.

Conclusions

Null States is a terrific novel by any measure, made more so by the author’s deft handling of cultural issues based on her extensive experience as an aid and relief worker. If you’re new to Malka Older’s books you should read Infomocracy first so you understand the milieu, but be sure to pick up Null States at the same time so you don’t have to wait to see what happens next. I recommend both books without reservation.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 50 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.

Written by curtisfrye

November 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Review of Power-Up by Matthew Lane

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Title: Power-Up

Author: Matthew Lane

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-691-16151-8

Length: 264

Price: $29.95

Rating: 94%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

I enjoy creative takes on technical subjects that reveal the mechanics behind familar objects. Video games provide hours of entertainment and challenge. Beyond the need for attractive graphics and effective user interfaces, each game designer must decide how to award points, measure the effect of player choices within the game, and provide a balanced environment that maintains game play without sacrificing challenge. In Power-Up: Unlocking the Hidden Mathematics in Video Games, Matthew Lane describes how math enters into video game design. His book is an enjoyable read that taught me a lot about the math behind game design.

From Physics to Friendship

It would be difficult to find an example of a video game that doesn’t use math in some way. Some games allow exploration without awarding points, for example, but the player must still move around the game world to discover what’s next and every new discovery is an implied “score”. As Lane notes, math provides the foundation for almost every game out there. In Power-Up, he divides his coverage into nine chapters:

  • Game physics
  • Repetition in quiz games
  • Voting
  • Keeping score
  • Chase games
  • Complexity
  • Friendship
  • Chaotic systems
  • Value of games

The first eight chapters center on a specific math topic, such as the use of equations to model the physics of a game world and the difficulties of assigning points in games such as recent versions of The Sims where friendship can matter as much as health and happiness. The final chapter discusses the value of games as a human activity, specifically mentioning games as educational tools and opportunities to gamble, with a mention of early probability calculations designed to divide the pot fairly in an unfinished game.

I have a bit of math background and have studied probability and statistics in some depth, so I was able to follow almost all of the formulas and related discussion fairly easily. Lane takes care to explain the equations’ inputs and, more importantly, meanings so the calculations’ roles within games can be understood without too much trouble. I’ve seen Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which proves that it’s impossible to design a voting system that can’t be manipulated through strategic voting, discussed in several publications; I believe Lane explains the phenomenon effectively and makes the logic behind the theorem clear.

Repetition and Scoring

While there’s too much material to discuss each chapter in depth, I did want to offer more details about the discussions of repetition and complexity in Power-Up. I played early versions of the quiz game You Don’t Know Jack! when I was young and, as Lane indicates, I started seeing repeat questions after a relatively short time. In Chapter 2, the author shows how having a relatively small question bank suffers in the face of frequent play. The radical solution, not repeating any questions until they have all been used, has its own issues. Various strategies for reducing the repeat rate have been tried, but most center on reducing the probability that a previously used question will be selected again.

For example, if you have a die with the numbers one through six and roll a one, you might want to make the probability of rolling a one again 1/12 instead of 1/6. The problem is that 5/6 + 1/12 = 11/12, which is less than one. As Lane points out, the actual probability of rolling a one again should be 1/11. If you add 1/11 + 10/11 (the probability of rolling any other number is 2/11, multiplied by five), you get 11/11 = 1. This calculation is interesting and a bit counterintuitive, which points out the creativity required to create fair games that are also fun to play.

Lane also goes into some detail on keeping score, describing several different systems for distance traveled games, tile matching games such as 2048, and puzzle games such as Angry Birds. The discussion of Angry Birds was quite interesting for me because it overlapped with a friend’s personal experience. My friend Bill had one of the top scores in the world on the original Angry Birds, but he was frustrated that some of the reported scores above him on the leaderboard were impossible to achieve. Not because the point counts were too high, but because there was literally no way to accumulate a specific total. Lane discusses this phenomenon, where it’s possible to prove that some totals can’t be reached within a game’s scoring system, in some depth. I enjoyed the discussion and plan to share it with my friend.

Conclusions

In Power-Up, Matthew Lane describes many of the ways that math powers video games. Similar books and articles have provided in-depth coverage of a specific subject, such as physics models, but his is the first to go into detail on such a wide variety of subjects in the same book. I love his choice of topics and believe the depth of each chapter strikes an excellent balance between detail and length. Highly recommended.

Written by curtisfrye

October 4, 2017 at 1:45 am

Review of Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy

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Title: Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy

Author: Anindya Ghose

Publisher: MIT Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-262-03627-6

Length: 240

Price: $29.95

Rating: 100%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

I’m not a reviewer who gives out perfect scores like candy. In fact, I chose to use a 0-to-100% scale so I could provide nuanced ratings. I happily gave Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy a 98% because it was outstanding work but, for whatever reason, didn’t ring the bell for 100%. I believe I’ve given one other book, Intellectual Property Strategy (from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series) a maximum rating. Tap, by Anindya Ghose and also from MIT Press, is the second.

The Mobile Landscape

Mobile devices are everywhere, with their spread continuing to gather pace as the prices of the devices and supporting services come down. Originally limited to voice and Short Message Service (SMS) communication due to a lack of bandwidth, smartphones now enable subscribers to make voice and video calls, search the web, and, of critical importance to marketers, engage in commerce. In Tap, Anindya Ghose of the Stern School of Business at New York University relates the results and implications of numerous academic studies of mobile commerce. The results provide a robust framework for marketers working in the mobile arena.

In his introduction, Ghose identifies four contradictions in what consumers want from mobile marketing and how we behave:

  1. People seek spontaneity, but they are predictable and they value certainty.
  2. People find advertising annoying, but they fear missing out.
  3. People want choice and freedom, but they get overwhelmed.
  4. People protect their privacy, but they increasingly use their personal data as currency. (p. 9)

Success in the mobile arena requires marketers to strike the proper balance among these four tensions.

Studies and References

After reading the first few chapters of Tap, I realized how many studies of mobile commerce have been conducted over the past ten years. As the author points out, tracking user movement and behavior, combined with the ability to test various forms of advertisements depending on context, provides a target-rich environment for academics and industry marketers to experiment. Ghose, who is a lead or co-author on many of the studies he cites, provides useful background on mobile commerce before dividing his coverage of the major forces of mobile marketing into nine chapters:

  • Context
  • Location
  • Time
  • Saliency
  • Crowdedness
  • Trajectory
  • Social Dynamics
  • Weather
  • Tech Mix

Each chapter reviews the literature relating to its force and offers insights into how marketers can use those results to the benefit of their clients and consumers. It’s impossible to cover all of the forces in any detail, but I found the discussion of crowdedness and trajectory particularly interesting. Crowdedness, as the word implies, refers to crowded conditions typically found while commuting. On a subway or bus, commuters typically pay attention to their mobile devices, ear buds in, and tune out their surroundings. Advertisers can take advantage of this focused attention by distributing relevant and interesting advertisements (and advertorials) during those periods.

Trajectory refers to a consumer’s path, either as movement between two major objectives (home and office) or within a larger location (movement within a store). When outside, mobile phones can track user movements based on GPS and accelerometer readings. When inside, the same tracking can be done using wi-fi signals. Each individual’s tendency for future movement based on their current vector can be exploited by marketers to make attractive offers.

The other seven chapters provide similar coverage. In addition to crowdedness and trajectory, I found the chapter on location (Chapter 5) to be particularly interesting.

Conclusions

Marketing is not a one-way street. Consumers are bombarded with ads and advertorial content, raising the mental cost of search and time (and data) spent waiting for ads to load on small-screen mobile devices. Many users employ ad blockers to reduced as much of the clutter as they can, greatly speeding up their usage experience but depriving them of potentially useful information. Also, as Ghose points out in the fourth contradiction listed above, consumers increasingly use their personal data as currency and don’t hesitate to refuse a trade if they feel they’re not receiving sufficient value in return.

Ghose is a leading expert on mobile marketing. His new book Tap summarizes the field’s most important research in a compact, readable package that I believe is indispensable for anyone interested in the subject.

Review of The Chessboard and the Web

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Title: The Chessboard and the Web

Author: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Publisher: Yale University Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-300-21564-9

Length: 296

Price: $26.00

Rating: 92%

I purchased a copy of this book for personal use.

The first step to winning a debate is to define the terms used to discuss the issue. In The Chessboard and the Web, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State, characterizes international relations as a series of interconnecting relationships. Rather than pursue a statist realpolitik strategy, she argues in favor of a cooperative, supportive approach.

Games in Theory and Practice

Dr. Slaughter starts her argument by comparing the traditional view of competition described by Thomas Schelling’s classic text on game theory, The Strategy of Conflict, with operations on a chess board. Of the classic two-by-two matrix games that Schelling describes in his book, the game of Chicken comes closest to emulating the risk of nuclear war that lurks in the background of many international conflicts. If you’re not familiar with the game of Chicken, you might have seen it in 1950s teen movies, when two boys drive at each other at high speed. The first one to swerve is the “chicken” and takes a small loss, but if neither swerves there’s a head-on collision and both players suffer a huge loss.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, perhaps the best known of the classic games, demonstrates how a game’s payouts can be constructed to convince individuals to violate their best interests. The idea is that two criminals have been apprehended, separated, and offered a choice. If a criminal testifies against the other (defects) and the other refuses to testify against them (cooperates), the one who testified will go free and the other will go to prison for ten years. If both testify, they will go to jail for five years. If neither testifies, each will go to jail for one year. Even though the best choice for both criminals is to refuse to testify and serve a little time in jail, the fact they can’t communicate with each other means they can’t trust the other’s intentions. The penalty for unmatched cooperation is a long jail term while the other goes free, so the logical choice is for both to defect and accept a suboptimal outcome.

The third game Slaughter mentions, the Stag Hunt (also called the coordination game) allows for scenarios where two players can achieve better outcomes by cooperating than by competing. In the Stag Hunt, two hunters can choose to go after a hare or a stag. If a player goes after a hare, they will always get it and win one point. If both players go after a stag, they will each get three points. If one player chooses hare and the other chooses stag, the player choosing hare gets one point and the player choosing stag gets zero. Even with repeated play, it’s easy for players to fall into the trap of getting a steady payoff of one point per round without discovering that cooperation yields better results. As with all of the classic two-by-two games, the main limitation is the lack of communication between the players.

Networks and Connections

After introducing game theory, Slaughter describes networks and basics of network analysis in the context of international relations. For example, she mentions different measures of connectedness, such as the number of connections leading to and from a network node (its degree), the node’s place in the network (its centrality), and the number of times it serves as a connection between two other nodes (its betweenness). She then explores the strengths and weaknesses of the standard network topologies: star, hub-and-spoke, and mesh. Networks appear throughout international relations, whether among states (such as the European Union) or in non-governmental organizations and terrorist groups. Some networks are tightly interconnected (have a high density), while others are more sparse.

Slaughter describes several major types of international networks, starting with resilience networks. Resilience networks can serve as defense, recovery, and stabilization tools. Doctors Without Borders is one example of a networked organization that provides health care in recovery and stabilization roles. Task networks are similar to resilience networks in some respects, but one distinction is that they are temporary groupings assembled to complete work through cooperation, collaboration, or innovation. Cooperation comes with significant risks. If a partner defects, such as when an OPEC member nation produces more oil than its quota allows, then the strength of the network depends in large part on the effectiveness of punishments administered by other group members.

The final category of networks, scale networks, describe how solutions that work well in microcosm can grow. In a replication network, a solution can be repeated with little or no modification at a new location. One such network is the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI). GAVI coordinates transport and delivery of vaccines to vulnerable populations to help restrict the spread of disease. Finally, cumulation networks bring knowledge and expertise into a single entity. One example is GitHub, the online source code repository that programmers around the world rely on.

Network Power

As you might expect, Slaughter argues strongly in favor of a networked approach instead of following the realist’s emphasis on states with interests rather than allies. She cites former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s adoption of Joseph Nye and Suzanne Nossel’s concept of “Smart Power”, where states use all means at their disposal, from military power to trade, diplomacy, and foreign aid, to influence allies, institutions, and international norms. At some point the distinction between “smart power” and the traditional realist view becomes moot; realists use all of those tools as well, they just do so with different intentions.

Near the end of The Chessboard and the Web, Slaughter compares her liberal internationalist (she would say humanist) approach to Joshua Ramo’s “Hard Gatekeeping” (statist) approach. As she notes, the discussion has raged between proponents of a power-based foreign policy versus those advocating a values-based foreign policy for centuries. Her ideal scenario is an Open Order where states remain important and powerful but operate within an international network charged with “acknowledging and validating individuals, groups, businesses, and institutions not simply as state subjects but as actors in their own right through global networks.”

Conclusion

Foreign policy, diplomacy, and statecraft require careful planning and execution to advance one’s interests. As with all such debates, it’s a matter of striking a balance between a state’s interests and those of its allies, competitors, and neutrals. Advocates of the Hard Gatekeeping approach would argue that the “Smart Power” approach isn’t so smart because it would leave the U.S. exposed to defectors. Even so, I find Slaughter’s arguments in The Chessboard and the Web to be convincing if not quite compelling. States can benefit from well-applied connections, but deciding on the extent of that connectivity and exposure is a devilishly tricky prospect. Highly recommended.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 50 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at http://www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.

Review of Gravity’s Kiss

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Title: Gravity’s Kiss

Author: Harry Collins

Publisher: MIT Press

Copyright: 2017

ISBN13: 978-0-262-34003-8

Length: 416

Price: $29.95

 


I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher.

Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves as part of his theory of general relativity, with the caveat that the waves would be so weak they would be almost impossible to detect. Harry Collins, Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University, has closely observed gravitational wave science and its practitioners since 1972. In Gravity’s Kiss, he documents the first detection of gravitational waves and comments on the process from the complementary perspectives of sociology and physical science.

Years in the Making

Gravity’s Kiss starts by describing the initial mention of what turned out to be the first detection of gravitational waves. The Event, as it was soon known, occurred on September 14, 2015. Collins was at home, scanning through the subject lines of emails from the gravitational wave community, when he noticed a subject line mentioning an interesting occurrence during an engineering run of two new detectors. The devices were in Washington state and Texas, far enough apart that their readings could be compared, adjusted for the time to traverse the distance between the detectors, and examined for anomalies or glitches that could indicate an instrument fault or statistical coincidence that would invalidate the observation.

Collins’ method is to observe and report on science as it happens, so this message was his signal to more closely observe the process from his vantage as a trusted colleague with whom many practitioners willingly shared information. The author notes that, with one exception, he was the longest-tenured member of the gravitational wave community. He had observed years of work when everyone knew the odds of detection were vanishingly remote because their tools weren’t sensitive enough yet and been part of conversations when teams thought perhaps they had detected gravitational waves. (They hadn’t. The signal was a “blind injection” inserted by project managers to rehearse the procedures to be followed after a real detection.)

Secrets and Methods

Part of the ritual of science demands that experimenters maintain a measure of distance and detachment from their subject. As such, even knowledge of whether The Event came from real observations or had been injected into the data stream was kept secret from the researchers until it was time to “open the box” and determine whether the signal was real or the result of a glitch or blind injection. After each party to the analysis described their work, the team agreed all necessary due diligence was done, the seals on a few files were broken and the data compared to the signal. As it turned out, the signal was loud, clear, and free from mechanical glitches. Collins reports that the gravitational wave community celebrated the unveiling and turned almost immediately to the tasks of refining their analysis and writing the paper that would present their result to the world.

The paper, which everyone realized would be a landmark of the physics literature, brought the social side of science to the fore. Collins highlights two aspects of the paper writing and continuing analysis process that, in his opinion, hampered the community: secrecy and what he calls “relentless professionalism”. Not wanting to have their thunder stolen by scientists who were not part of the group, the consortium prohibited members from sharing anything about the detection with outsiders. While spouses and partners could be told, no one else was to know. This secrecy caused significant stresses within the group, particuarly as the analysis and writing process dragged on. Over the five months from the initial detection on September 14, 2015 to the press conference on February 11, 2016, the need to avoid disclosure strained relationships with colleagues and family even as bits of information leaked out. One rumor analyst was even able to piece together enough information from canceled conference attendance and similar tidbits to correctly predict the press conference’s date.

The process also suffered from “relentless professionalism”, where members asked increasingly fine-pointed questions regarding method, methodology, and results. The quest for statistical significance to claim a discovery, which in the physical sciences is measured by a severe five-sigma criterion, and the words used to describe a result take on deep meanings within the community. Collins describes the lengthy and occasionally fraught process with the eye of an experienced observer and with enough knowledge of the subject matter to comment on both the content of the paper and how it came to be. In practice, scientific endeavor is far from the detached process is often claims to be. Deciding whether to use the term “direct detection” in the paper’s title comes down to not wanting to hurt the feelings of previous researchers who, though not part of the consortium, are well-regarded and could lay claim to initial detection under certain interpretations of their work.

Conclusion

Collins’ contemporaenous narrative provides an enjoyable and relatable read. The first two-thirds of the book describe the process leading from initial detection to just after the paper was released, while the last third provides sociological context to flesh out his approach, observations, and recommendations. While he doesn’t shy away from wondering at the complexity of the detection apparatus and analytical techniques, his descriptions are delightfully free of hyperbole and treat the protagonists as good people doing the best they can to ensure their results are correct and share them appropriately. Gravity’s Kiss is the story of a monumental success brought about by a team of able researchers. Harry Collins was ideally positioned to relate the tale and made the most of his opportunity. Highly recommended.

Written by curtisfrye

March 23, 2017 at 10:00 am

Review of Driverless from MIT Press

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Title: Driverless

Authors: Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman

Publisher: MIT Press

Copyright: 2016

ISBN13: 978-0-262-03522-4

Length: 328

Price: $29.95

Rating: 94%

I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher.

Research and development of driverless cars has reached the popular press over the past few years, but until now attempts to frame the debate have remained in the specialty press and academic journals. In Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead, Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman offer a valuable perspective on the technological and policy implications of autonomous vehicles.

Seven Myths

The concept of the driverless car has been around almost as long as the automobile itself, but only in the past few years has the technology underpinning the concept advanced and evolved enough to bring it close to realization. Even so, there is enough disagreement and skepticism to slow the adoption of driverless cars.

Lipson and Kurman organize their narrative around what they call the Seven Delaying Myths that slow advances in driverless car networks:

  1. Autonomous driving technology will evolve out of today’s driver-assist technology
  2. Technological progress is linear
  3. The public is resistant
  4. Driverless cars require extensive investment in infrastructure
  5. Driverless cars represent an ethical dilemma
  6. Driverless cars need to have a nearly perfect driving record to be safe enough
  7. The adoption of driverless cars will be abrupt

I can’t address each point in depth here, but I’ll make a few notes. The second myth, that technological progress is linear, is clearly false. Elementary analyses of networks show that non-linear growth occurs as the number of interconnected members increases. Those connections drive innovation through aggressive idea sharing, competition, and cooperation. The staggering growth of internet technologies and platforms puts this myth to rest easily.

The fourth point, that driverless cars require extensive investment in infrastructure, was true under the completely impractical Electronic Highway paradigm promulgated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Lane sensors and wires embedded in the road and sensors installed in the cars were prohibitively expensive and required far more computing power than was reasonably available at the time. By 2014, the U.S. government backed research into a paradigm called V2X, where cars exchanged data with other cars, the road, and roadside sensors. Even though the available technologies and processing power were exponentially better than what was available in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the V2X system used a top-down approach where the system, writ broadly, managed each car’s behavior.

One of the authors attended a 2014 U.S. Department of Transportation conference on autonomous vehicles and was astounded to see just a single session of the multi-day event devoted to Google’s self-driving cars and deep learning algorithms. Disagreeing with the DOT’s top-down approach (noted by including the phrase intelligent cars in the book’s subtitle), the authors believe that putting the smarts and sensors in the cars and using the highway’s infrastructure as a series of checkpoints and information relays is the superior solution. I find their argument persuasive. Advances in deep learning and agent-based models let individual vehicles build their skills, which they can combine with other vehicles’ experiences to develop an ever-improving ensemble model through a process the authors call fleet learning.

The Road Ahead

Driverless vehicles have started to appear on American roads, but significant objections remain. What Lipson and Kurman label as Myth #6, that driverless cars need to have a perfect driving record to be safe enough, poses two problems. The first is that it’s easy for critics to move the goal posts. Whatever safety level driverless cars have attained, it’s easy to use the specter of a runaway or hacked vehicle a passenger has no way to control to argue that the cars must be even safer. Second, humans are horrible drivers. According to World Health Organization figures updated in May 2014, 1.2 million people are killed in car accidents worldwide every year.

And yet, even though driverless cars offer the prospect of safer roads, the loss of privacy and autonomy weighs heavily in the balance. While Myth #3, that the public is resistant, is less true than it was, a significant proporation of Americans identify strongly with their car and see it as a way to maintain their freedom. Leaving the driving to a robot would deprive those individuals of an activity they cherish, which is an attitudinal barrier policy makers can’t ignore.

Conclusion

Driverless is an excellent book that offers a systematic and informative narrative on the history, state of the art, and future of driverless cars. Framing the issues through their Seven Myths offers a lens into the rhetoric supporting innovation and adoption of autonomous vehicles. There is much work to do on both the technological and policy sides—Lipson and Kurman’s work contributes meaningfully to that discussion.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O’Reilly Media; he has also created more than 50 online training courses for lynda.com. In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at http://www.curtisfrye.com and follow him as @curtisfrye on Twitter.

Written by curtisfrye

February 22, 2017 at 10:00 am

Review of Hungry Ghosts, by Stephen Blackmoore

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Title: Hungry Ghosts

Author: Stephen Blackmoore

Publisher: DAW Books

ISBN13: 978-0-756-40941-8

Release: February 7, 2017

Available for purchase from Powell’s, Amazon, or B&N.


I received a free electronic copy of this book for review.

I enjoy urban fantasy, specifically stories that borrow heavily from the film noir and hard-boiled detective genres. Stephen Blackmoore’s Eric Carter novels fit the bill nicely.

Hungry Ghosts is the third installment in the series, following Dead Things and Broken Souls. In Blackmoore’s world, magic relies on a local grid wizards can tap into. The specific expression of that power varies among wizards, with Eric Carter drawn to one of the rarest specialties: necromancer. He is a strong natural talent, but a series of adventures has given him exceptional abilities.

Great strength often comes at great cost, and Carter’s power boost is no exception. The events of the first two books led to his becoming entangled with Santa Muerte, originally known as Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of death. “Entangled with” as in “married to.” Mortals pledging themselves to gods can result in significant complications and side effects up to and including fates worse than death, so Carter is properly motivated to take extreme measures to save himself.

The first two novels in the series set up the action in Hungry Ghosts, so I won’t detail the events that put the author’s protagonist in this bind. The action is entertaining and, true to the book’s hard-boiled antecedents, occasionally violent. Okay, fine…you got me: more than occasionally. And yet I never have the feeling that Blackmoore adds violence for its own sake. Instead, frequenting the world of the dead (literally) and carrying around the messed-up baggage that comes with it makes Eric Carter familiar with and capable of delivering death in its various forms.

As an author, Blackmoore writes in a straightforward style that I find engaging. The gritty industrial locations of his mortal criminals’ lairs stand in sharp contrast to the land of the dead and the magical elements present when Aztec gods manifest. The events of Hungry Ghosts takes Eric Carter through regions of existence he had (mostly) heard of but hoped never to traverse. The ongoing exploration of the landscape and Carter’s reaction to it kept me interested throughout. Again, Blackmoore’s direct style serves him well here. He splits his narrative between milieu and character wisely, providing every detail I need to appreciate the challenges of the setting and the consequences of failure while following his protagonist’s thought process as he works through increasingly daunting situations.

I highly recommend Hungry Ghosts and its predecessors, though I do have a couple of caveats given the books’ subject matter and presentation. First, the novels include a fair amount of profanity. I believe the characters’ language, like the violence, is organic to the story, so it doesn’t bother me. Second, readers who shy away from descriptions of bloody crime scenes or casually mentioning a shotgun blast to the back of the knee should pick other books.

I loved all three Eric Carter novels, especially Hungry Ghosts. If you enjoy (or think you might enjoy) urban fantasy, I’m sure you will, too.

Written by curtisfrye

January 7, 2017 at 4:24 pm