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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Book of the Week 8: Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov

Book of the Week 8: Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov Garry Kasparov’s Deep Thinking (UK) (US) is subtitled “Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins”, although on that particular point it is not especially profound. Nevertheless I’ve found it well worth a second read. The book has two particular strengths. First, the account of account of Kasparov’s battles with IBM’s Deep Blue, which reads like a thriller. Kasparov is clearly very sore about how IBM behaved,...

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The prisoner’s dilemma at 70 – at what we get wrong about it

The prisoner’s dilemma at 70 – at what we get wrong about it Once upon a time, a pianist was arrested by the secret police and accused of spying. He was carrying sheets of paper covered with a mysterious code. Despite protesting that it was merely the sheet music for Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, the poor man was marched to the cells. A couple of hours later, a sinister interrogator walked in. “You’d better tell us everything, comrade,” he announced with a thin smile. “We have...

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Book of the Week 7: To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski

Book of the Week 7: To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski Henry Petroski is a fascinatingly eclectic writer – a nerd with the soul of a poet. I relied upon his book The Pencil: A History in writing the opening chapter of the forthcoming The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy (coming in May), and turned to Success Through Failure while writing Adapt. I was delighted to receive To Engineer Is Human as a Christmas present – one of those rare surprise presents that...

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Why my purchase choices have the kiss of death

Why my purchase choices have the kiss of death Steve Eisman, the investment manager made famous by Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, did a lot of homework in his quest for terrible assets to bet against. But when he was introduced to another investment manager — Wing Chau — he saw the opportunity to accelerate the decision-making process: “Whatever that guy is buying, I want to short it.” For Mr Eisman, Wing Chau was the equivalent of a watch that is six hours off: a perfect guide,...

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Why my purchase choices have the kiss of death

Why my purchase choices have the kiss of death Steve Eisman, the investment manager made famous by Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, did a lot of homework in his quest for terrible assets to bet against. But when he was introduced to another investment manager — Wing Chau — he saw the opportunity to accelerate the decision-making process: “Whatever that guy is buying, I want to short it.” For Mr Eisman, Wing Chau was the equivalent of a watch that is six hours off: a perfect guide,...

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Book of the Week 6: What We Need To Do Now

Book of the Week 6: What We Need To Do Now Chris Goodall’s latest book is What We Need To Do Now (For A Zero Carbon Society). I confess a temperamental kinship with Goodall: he’s a nerd, with a calm manner and an underdeveloped sense of outrage. This, I like very much. The book starts from the premise that we need to get carbon dioxide emissions down dramatically, and focuses on the UK: “the purpose of this book is to give an outline of the strategy the UK needs to adopt to...

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Book of the Week 6: What We Need To Do Now

Book of the Week 6: What We Need To Do Now Chris Goodall’s latest book is What We Need To Do Now (For A Zero Carbon Society). I confess a temperamental kinship with Goodall: he’s a nerd, with a calm manner and an underdeveloped sense of outrage. This, I like very much. The book starts from the premise that we need to get carbon dioxide emissions down dramatically, and focuses on the UK: “the purpose of this book is to give an outline of the strategy the UK needs to adopt to...

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Two cheers for the dematerialising economy

Two cheers for the dematerialising economy If past trends continue, the world’s gross domestic product will be about twice as big by 2040 as it is today. That’s the sort of growth rate that translates to 30-fold growth over a century, or by a factor of a thousand over two centuries. Is that miraculous, or apocalyptic? In itself, neither. GDP is a synthetic statistic, invented to help us put a measuring rod up against the ordinary business of life. It measures neither the energy...

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Two cheers for the dematerialising economy

Two cheers for the dematerialising economy If past trends continue, the world’s gross domestic product will be about twice as big by 2040 as it is today. That’s the sort of growth rate that translates to 30-fold growth over a century, or by a factor of a thousand over two centuries. Is that miraculous, or apocalyptic? In itself, neither. GDP is a synthetic statistic, invented to help us put a measuring rod up against the ordinary business of life. It measures neither the energy...

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Book of the Week 5: You Look Like A Thing And I Love You

Book of the Week 5: You Look Like A Thing And I Love You What surprised me about You Look Like A Thing And I Love You is that it’s genuinely funny – laugh-out-loud-funny, read-quotes-to-your-family-over-breakfast-funny. Who would not be charmed by an AI that develops My Little Pony names and suggests “Parpy Stink” and “Starsh*tter”? Or the accidental Murderbot that was supposed to be acting as a friendly usher? Or the curiosity-driven AI that plays Pacman by going to watch the...

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