Book Review: Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths -

Book Review: Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths


I've read a lot of computer-related books in my time. Some of them were really interesting, some were “sort of OK,” and quite a few bored my socks off. Happily, every now and then, I've been lucky enough to run across an offering that stands proud in the crowd. One such work is Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by renowned author Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths.

The underlying premise of Algorithms to Live By is that computer scientists have spent a humongous amount of time and effort researching and honing computer algorithms so as to make them provide results in the shortest time and as efficiently as possible. The thing is that these strategies that have been honed for computers are also applicable to our daily lives. As the authors say in their introduction:

How should a processor allocate its “attention” to perform all that the user asks of it, with the minimum overhead and in the least amount of time? When should it switch between different tasks, and how many tasks should it take on in the first place? What is the best way for it to use its limited memory resources? Should it collect more data, or take an action based on the data it already has?

As an example, suppose you've recently moved to a large city and you have 100 days to look for an apartment, but these little rascals tend to be snapped up almost as soon as they come on the market. Further assume that you are new to the city and you aren’t fully sure what to expect in your price range. You could simply plonk your money down on the first residence that comes along, but then you'll be left wondering if this was in fact the worst of the bunch and if you could have done much better. Alternatively, you could hold out all the way to the last day, but then the chances are that you've already seen — and missed out on — the best apartment going. 

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