In the privacy of my complacency, I am pleased to count myself moderately bright – not Stephen Fry clever but, you know, able to tie my own shoelaces and read without moving my lips. So it is bracing for me to venture from time to time into areas of learning where I find myself very much the pedestrian, and the reason I do here is because I am very interested in the matter of how algorithms impact upon our lives and in the relation between artificial intelligence and human consciousness.
Rob Smith is a bona fide expert in evolutionary algorithms. He has helped create software systems that learn fighter jet manoeuvres, describe immune system behaviour, reveal emotion in financial markets and explain how social networks propagate political polarisation.
Despite their ubiquity, algorithms are not well understood by the general population. They are now so complex that nobody can properly unpack them, and they display emergent properties that no-one can predict or control. Rob Smith has written a magnificently lucid book explaining how we got here and showing what algorithms are and what they are not. Carefully delineating how they were developed, and what assumptions and prejudices underlie them, he has written a timely and engaging book for the interested layman. Me, in other words.