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"The Numerati" by Stephen Baker

An account of a computer-based algorithm that happens to know and track our every move, even predicting what may happen to us. Makes you wonder why you see an ad before you even thought about something related to what the item/service is being advertised.

Back when BORDERS bookstore was still in business, this was one of the books heavily stacked at the tables up front, as far as I remember. You can tell the customers' interest in the book by how many of these books were untouched, and all being in excellent condition, showing no creases or fingerprints whatsoever, in addition to the novels and science books stacked next to it. However, I didn't pick it up because no one wanted to read it (even though it seems that way), but the book cover looked nice, and when I read the book's description on the back, it was a fish hook and I was slowly being reeled in.

Much to my surprise, it's about us in the form of numbers; a group of humans calculating our actions and behaviors in public and online. Even though Baker stated that their activities comply within the laws considering invasion of privacy, I still feel uneasy now every time I walk into a grocery store. So these humans, called the Numerati, calculate us, accurately guess our moves, who we are in general and sell them to advertisers to take advantage of the consumers that we are (so this is what Facebook is doing?).

Only seven chapters (in order): Worker, Shopper, Voter, Blogger, Terrorist, Patient and Lover. I like how they're able to predict the symptoms of a patient before it strikes them (you learn about the "magic carpet"). Being that I shop online for books, I now understand why sites like Amazon.com have a "Recommended For You" section, and it's funny how they unveil the results, based on your purchases and what items you looked at. This feature is also available on eBay and other large online retail websites. Cool but eerie, I must say.

My favorite chapter was "Blogger" and how they used Tears of Lust as an example. I used to blog before, especially on WordPress (only I have never blogged about deodorants in Iraq). However, being able to turn the blogs and the blogger into math, then into vectors? Simply amazing. Those vectors are made to try and place where the bloggers belong, under a plethora of subjects bloggers write about.

Anyway, what I found humorous about the book was how discreetly he describes the data experts he's appointed to meet and ask more information. Here's an example:

"[Ted] Kremer is the chief technical officer at Umbria. He works in a huge sunlit office lined with whiteboards. He's blond, with a square face, a pointed goatee, and near limitless patience—at least when it comes to teaching basic data mining." (Baker, 2008 ed. p.109)

I just found that funny; he's done the same to other experts he met up with, one having a nice, coifed hair and one with broad face. I was laughing. Nevertheless, Baker's writing is written in a way where you feel like you're hanging out with him. You also feel like you getting a guided tour in the data miners' offices, which is what this book is. Since there are other books that cover The Numerati in deeper detail, this book is a hash of the goings-on—a brief introduction to these number-loving computer nerds and what their gathering of data consists of, as if you're looking through the glass ceiling from the outside.

What you get from this book is a very easy, readable book about the guys behind the computer, behind the people. You get a guided tour, the workings of the gathering of data and learn the intricacies of how they go about converting our behavior into math and how everything generally works. That's all you get; no math, no formulas or anything you'll find here.

I don't know why I feel squeamish, but it certainly feels that way when you read about folks who eye on what you're doing. Strangely enough, I'd like to see how I look like as a number or numbers (and who the girl—my soul mate—is). The second I take a shopping cart, or basket, it's on: I'm being watched. Whatever I buy would make an impact in the future, getting me to buy more of that product, or other products I may slightly give a look at, and the price cuts and deals—"only $1.50 each if you buy five"—would reflect it.

In a different sense, I learned about these experts who very much found their own business(es). Some are still running and owning it, while some succeeded and sold to large industries like IBM. Other than that, it's nice having to see mathematicians and programmers work together gathering stuff about us. Even though it's not for the sake of invading our privacy in a legal way, it also helps track down criminals and help warn those who may encounter symptoms ahead of time before they get it.

Curious? I was too when I saw it, and read the back cover. Give it a read some time.





  • Beautiful cover design.
  • Brings up concerns about privacy.
  • Personalized or not, ever why specific ads are shown to you via TV, radio or on the internet?
  • Would like to see another edition of this book.
  • Are citizens concerned about privacy nowadays?
  • Last chapter felt a bit rushed.
90% (A-)
Fan Rating
Title The Numerati
Author(s) Stephen Baker
Description Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, shop with credit cards, and make calls on our cell phones. Companies like Yahoo! and Google are harvesting an average of 2,500 details about each of us every month. Who is looking at this information and what are they doing with it?

Journalist Stephen Baker explores these questions and provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're entering—and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati has infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, voters, potential terrorists — even lovers. The implications are vast. Privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor our every move. Retailers can better tempt us to make impulse buys. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or evening helping us find our soul mate. Entertaining and enlightening, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor—the mathematical modeling of humanity—will transform every aspect of our lives.
Dedication "For Jalaire"
ISBN 978-0-547-24793-9
Book Dimensions Width: 5.25″ (5¼″)
Height: 8.0″
Depth: 0.69″ (11/16″)
Page Count 256
Contents Introduction, seven (7) chapters, Conclusion, Acknowledgements, Notes, Sources and Further Reading, Index
Book / Cover Design Melissa Lotfy
Mark R. Robinson
Author Photograph Carolyn Cole
Published September 9, 2009
Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (www.hmhbooks.com) / First Mariner Books
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen Baker
Printed in United States of America
Book Format Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, MP3, Audible Audio
Quoted Reviews "Baker puts his finger on perhaps the most important cultural trend today: the explosion of data about every aspect of our world and the rise of applied math gurus who know how to use it...A must-read for anyone who wants to understand life and business in the Google Age." — Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail

"A highly readable and fascinating account of the number-driven world we now live in." — Wall Street Journal

"The Numerati is a rare read, as enlightening as it is entertaining. It will change the way you look at life." — Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post
Best Seller's List --
Other The Hardcover edition of this was published on August 12, 2008. The eBook edition was published on September 8, 2009.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 1. Mathematical models—Social aspects.
2. Human behavior—Mathematical models.
3. Mathematical statistics—Data processing.
I. Title
CIP Number ???
LC Control Number ???
LC Call Number QA401.B35  2008
DDC Call Number 303.48´3—dc22


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