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Daniel Soar: You can’t get away from Google

6 October 2011
The Googlisation of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) 
by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
California, 265 pp., £18.95, March 2011, 978 0 520 25882 2
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In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives 
by Steven Levy.
Simon and Schuster, 424 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 1 4165 9658 5
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I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 
by Douglas Edwards.
Allen Lane, 416 pp., £20, July 2011, 978 1 84614 512 4
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... on the number and the authoritativeness of the pages linking to it. Its inventor was Larry Page (hence, cunningly, PageRank), one of Google’s founders and now once more its CEO; and his model, as StevenLevy explains in In the Plex, was the system of scholarly citation, by which journal articles and books are considered important if they are referred to by other important journal articles and books ...

The Blindfolded Archer

Donald MacKenzie: The stochastic dynamics of market prices

4 August 2005
The (Mis)behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward 
by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson.
Profile, 328 pp., £9.99, September 2005, 1 86197 790 5
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... floods of the Nile. In no discipline has Mandelbrot been entirely at home. For example, the alleged lack of rigour of fractal geometry was the subject of fierce criticism in 1989 by a mathematician, Steven Krantz, who condemned its heavy use of ‘computer output’ and ‘pictures’ rather than conventional theorems and proofs. As the historians of economics Philip Mirowski and Esther-Mirjam Sent ...

Doomed to Draw

Ben Jackson: Magnus Carlsen v. AI

6 June 2019
The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match that Made Chess Great Again 
by Brin-Jonathan Butler.
Simon and Schuster, 211 pp., £12.99, November 2018, 978 1 9821 0728 4
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Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI 
by Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan.
New in Chess, 416 pp., £19.95, January 2019, 978 90 5691 818 7
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... to be looking for ways to reduce the influence of computers, to pull the game into positions where intuition and judgment come to the fore. ‘When I covered the Kasparov-Deep Blue match,’ StevenLevy has written, ‘I thought the drama came from a battle between computer and human. But it was really a story of people, with brutal capitalist impulse, teaming up with AI to destroy the confidence ...

Under the Soles of His Feet

Stephen Alford: Henry’s Wars

4 April 2019
The English People at War in the Age of Henry VIII 
by Steven​ Gunn.
Oxford, 297 pp., £35, January 2018, 978 0 19 880286 0
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... freeing his kingdom and subjects from the popish yoke. Or so Henry believed, always the superlative consumer of his own propaganda. Whether Henry’s subjects shared his affection for war is, as Steven Gunn’s book shows, less certain. War was, however, central to the English experience, both in the practical sense that armies were sent frequently into battle, but also in the more amorphous sense ...

An Example of the Good Life

Steven​ Shapin: Michael Polanyi

15 December 2011
Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science 
by Mary Jo Nye.
Chicago, 405 pp., £29, October 2011, 978 0 226 61063 4
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... in general. Scientific Red Eminences were articulate, respected and energetic in getting their ideas before the public – Joseph Needham, J.B.S. Haldane, Julian Huxley, Lancelot Hogben, Hyman Levy and Polanyi’s Manchester colleague and political sparring partner, the physicist P.M.S. Blackett (the subject of one of Nye’s previous books). In 1939, the publication of The Social Function of ...

Plus or Minus One Ear

Steven​ Shapin: Weights and Measures

30 August 2012
World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement 
by Robert Crease.
Norton, 317 pp., £18.99, October 2011, 978 0 393 07298 3
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... standards was probably Saxon. You can’t govern if you can’t control your currency, so metallurgical standards and their enforcement are tools of statecraft. So too is the ability effectively to levy taxes – and to make visible their material and legitimate bases. The power of the British state, its capacity to wage war and extend empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, was dependent on excise ...

NHS SOS

James Meek

5 April 2018
... care homes and nursing homes, and, in Leicestershire and Rutland alone, about the estimated 100,000-plus people caring for unwell or disabled family members – around one in ten of the population. Steven Forbes, who runs Leicester city’s adult social care services, pointed out to me that people with life-shortening inherited conditions like Down’s were experiencing the same lifespan-lengthening ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides

24 October 2019
Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... exaltation the question was: where was the real Susan Sontag and what had the mummies done with her? At the end of the mangy, scrambling movie decade that gave us Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, there was nary a murmur from her (just imagine what she might have made of Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky). We know from Nunez and others that Sontag boogied in Studio ...

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