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review 2018-11-30 16:58
LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media
LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media - P.W. Singer,Emerson Brooking

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A very interesting, though worrying study about the influence of social media in areas that we don’t necessarily consider ‘social’, such as the political world, or even as warfare. The past few years especially (but not only) have led to quite important changes in how people use internet in general and social media in particular, with the advent of giants such as Facebook, and other easy access platforms like Twitter.

As much as I stand for a ‘free’ Internet (I’m a child of the 90s, after all, and my first experiences of the web have forever influenced my views of it, for better and for worse), the authors make up for valid points when it comes to listing abuses and excesses. The use of internet as a tool for war is not new, as evidenced by the examples of the Zapatistas in 1994, or the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011; but the latter quickly turned sour, as some governments, quick to respond, turned the same weapons of freedom into tools of control and oppression. These are the same tools and the same internet we know, but with a much different outcome.

The 2016 US elections are, of course, one of the other examples in this book, one that shows how social media, through sock-puppet accounts, can be used to influence people. The hopeful part in me keeps thinking that ‘people can’t be so stupid’, but the realistic part does acknowledge that, here too, the authors make very valid points. The rational seldom becomes viral, and what gets shared time and again is all the provoking matter (not in a good meaning of this word), the one that calls to base emotions and quick response (again, not in a good way). I kept remembering what I try to practice: “if tempted to post a scathing comment on internet, stop and wait to see if you still want to do that later” (usually, the answer is ‘no’). And so we should also be careful of how we react to what we see on social networks.

Conclusion: 4.5 stars. Kind of alarmist in parts, but in a cold-headed way, one that could have a chance of making people think and reflect on online behaviours, and perhaps, just perhaps, remain cold-headed in the future as well
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review 2018-08-25 21:02
Coding Projects in Python
Coding Projects in Python - DK Publishing

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

Actually, I finished reading this book quite a while ago, as a quick read, and was planning on going through it a second time at a different pace in order to fully use it—namely, to teach myself Python. I thought (and I still think I was right) that I’d then be able to review it properly. Unfortunately, between work and studying for both network certifications and uni, I don’t really have enough time to add programming to my timetable, so this will have to wait.

I made it to 25% of the book, in terms of following its teachings. From what I’ve experienced here, while I wouldn’t recommend it to younger children, it looks to me like it’d be an appropriate place to start for kids around 10-12. And older kids as well, of course. Or even adults. Because we’re ‘adults’ doesn’t mean that the colourful pictures will magically alter our ability to follow instructions to develop programs in Python.

The lessons were easy to understand and to put in practice. There were a few typos, but since I had an advanced copy, hopefully they’re gone from the printed version. (I could find my way around them, it was a matter of logics, but I’m not sure if a child would? Or maybe they would, who knows! Also, it’s good training in debugging, and this is never a waste.)

I wish I could give a deeper review. Maybe at a later time, once I can pick it up again.

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review 2018-08-23 21:01
Physics and Computer Science for Laymen: "The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose
The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Popular Science) - Martin Gardner,Roger Penrose


Penrose certainly has a generous idea of his readers' mathematical ability. It's a kind of running joke among Penrose-fans: he always starts his books by saying you'll find it tough going if you haven't got a 12th Year (in Portugal)/GCSE (in the UK) in math, but that he'll explain it as he goes if you haven't. Twenty pages later you're on Gödel and conformable geometry. He doesn't do it deliberately; he really does believe his books are popular science. How can you not love him? I purchased an on-line kindle edition of this book back last year via Amazon and it was more about bringing myself up to date (I read it for the first time in 1991 when the book came out), although such things are never truly current due to Theories being debated and tested for very many years within Scientific Realms. Roger Penrose's books are as stated often inclusive of more mathematical devises than many books aimed at more laymen realms, so I often regard them as perhaps Bridging that gap between Solid Science Headaches and Laymen 'I read an article and am a common law know-all expert'.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-07-30 19:58
21 Lessons for the 21st Century
21 Lessons for the 21st Century - Yuval Noah Harari

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I read Harari’s two other books (“Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”), and quite liked them, so when this one was available, I couldn’t help but request it. It did turn out to be an interesting read as well, dealing with current problems that we just can’t ignore: global warming, terrorism, the rise of harmful ideologies, etc. It’s definitely not seen through rose-tinted glasses, and it’s a good thing, for it’s time people in general wake up and—to paraphrase one of the many things I tend to agree with here—stop voting with their feet. (Between the USA and Brexit Country, let’s be honest: obviously too many of us don’t use their brains when they vote.)

I especially liked the part about the narratives humans in general tend to construct (nationalism and religions, for instance, being built on such narratives)—possibly because it’s a kind of point of view I’ve been holding myself as well, and because (as usual, it seems), the “narratives of sacrifice” hit regular people the most. Another favourite of mine is the part played by algorithms and “Big Data”, for in itself, I find this kind of evolution both fascinating and scary: in the future, will we really let algorithms decide most aspects of our lives, and isn’t it already happening? (But then, aren’t we also constructs whose functioning is based on biological algorithms anyway? Hmm. So many questions.)

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this book, and to be fair, there was too much matter to cram everything in one volume, so some of it felt a little hurried and too superficial. I’ll nevertheless recommend it as an introduction to the topics it deals with, because it’s a good eye-opener, and it invites to a lot of introspection, questioning and thinking, which is not a bad thing.

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review 2018-06-16 21:11
I Still Dream
I Still Dream - James Smythe

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Although I didn’t adore this book, I found it to be an interesting take on artificial intelligence; on what contributes to developing an AI; on the trials and errors involved, and on how the best intentions can be tainted by poor execution, like what happens with SCION. Because, to paraphrase what Laura says about it in the novel, if you teach a child to fight and retaliate, what does it teach them about life and how to react to whatever comes their way?

The story had its ebb and flow, sometimes a little too slow to my liking, but always intriguing. I usually don’t mind when a story jumps from one time period to another, and/or doesn’t always rely on the same narrator, as long as I can follow it. And here, I didn’t have any trouble following, even when the first person narrator didn’t introduce themselves at first (like what happens with Charlie or Cesar). This approach lets the author play with more than just Laura’s take on both Organon and SCION—which was good, since it’s easily apparent that Organon is built upon all that Laura poured into it, and having only Laura’s POV would have felt, to me, slightly… constricting?

My opinion about the plot remains mixed, though, in that the novel seems to hover between being character-driven and being story-driven, while not fully achieving either. I liked the take on developing artificial intelligence—I don’t know much about coding, and I wouldn’t know how to even start about something so huge, and it felt plausible to me. On the other hand, I kept thinking that I wanted the character development part to go a little further than it did, because I felt that there remained some invisible barrier between me and the characters.

This said, I still got to see enough about Laura and the beings (whether the people or the AIs) surrounding her to get a fairly good idea of the characters, too, and of their struggles through life, especially when it came to dementia and similar memory- and recognition-related troubles. So, I definitely wouldn’t say either that the book was a failure in that regard.

Perhaps the one part that really disappointed me was the last chapter, which dragged on making the same point several times. I think it would’ve been more powerful had it been much shorter.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend the book, for the way it puts AI creation and destruction in parallel with the growing up and the decaying of human minds. (Also, listening to ‘Cloudbusting’ while reading it doesn’t hurt.)

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