The Numerati
List Price: $26.00

Our Price: $14.30

You Save: $11.70 (45%)


Product Description

An urgent look at how a global math elite is predicting and altering our behavior -- at work, at the mall, and in bed

Every day we produce loads of data about ourselves simply by living in the modern world: we click web pages, flip channels, drive through automatic toll booths, shop with credit cards, and make cell phone calls. Now, in one of the greatest undertakings of the twenty-first century, a savvy group of mathematicians and computer scientists is beginning to sift through this data to dissect us and map out our next steps. Their goal? To manipulate our behavior -- what we buy, how we vote -- without our even realizing it.

In this tour de force of original reporting and analysis, journalist Stephen Baker provides us with a fascinating guide to the world we're all entering -- and to the people controlling that world. The Numerati have infiltrated every realm of human affairs, profiling us as workers, shoppers, patients, voters, potential terrorists -- and lovers. The implications are vast. Our privacy evaporates. Our bosses can monitor and measure our every move (then reward or punish us). Politicians can find the swing voters among us, by plunking us all into new political groupings with names like "Hearth Keepers" and "Crossing Guards." It can sound scary. But the Numerati can also work on our behalf, diagnosing an illness before we're aware of the symptoms, or even helping us find our soul mate. Surprising, enlightening, and deeply relevant, The Numerati shows how a powerful new endeavor -- the mathematical modeling of humanity -- will transform every aspect of our lives.

Customer Reviews:

  • Have you ever wondered what is done with all that you do?
    As a graduate student in the social sciences studying human behavior, I often struggle to communicate what it is that I do to others in an approachable way. In other words, how do I convey to people how I go from the math/statistics I spend all day working with to the concepts/phenomena I am presumably actually studying? Baker does this for me. The next time I get a quizzical look at a cocktail party I am just going to refer the person to this book and move on to talking about sports.

    As others have pointed out, this book is a comprehensible not comprehensive review of what it is that the numerati are actually involved in. It's strengths are it it's ability to illustrate the doors that are being unlocked and the conclusions that can be drawn from massive data analysis.

    But it does more than that. It seems that the numerati spend more time thinking in equations than they do in implications. Baker pulls the potential consequences of our not so private but data rich lives into the larger dialogue of marketing, politics, healthcare, etc. Baker forces us (and hopefully some of the numerati) to examine the potential outcomes of looking at all this information. This book really makes you think about the ethics and theory behind large scale unprotected data analysis. Sure a company/website may guarantee that they will never "sell" your information to anyone else, but what are THEY going to do with it? And that isn't even accounting for all the information they are collecting without your knowledge.

    What the numerati need to realize is that they are no longer only working in the math field; they have entered into the domain of philosophy. The thing is though, philosophical questions can't be solved with a proof. Baker is keen to this and his book is a welcome introduction to these issues. ...more info
  • Fascinating Information
    I found this book so interesting. I had no idea how much information I was giving out on a weekly basis. After having read the book, I noticed that when I signed up for something on the internet they wanted me to answer 5 of their preselected questions. It used be one and you could always use the same question and answer but I can see they are trying to find out more info on me like where I went to school, and on it goes.
    I think big brother is definitely here or else you can't have a credit card, shop on line etc.

    I really enjoyed the way he presented the information since I am not a technical person or a math wizard. The book was easy to read and written in a personal, interesting style.
    ...more info
  • Horrible!
    This book was not only boring, I also didn't learn anything at all. I really struggled to get through this book, and thought many times about just giving up. I wish I had just given up and stopped reading it after the first few pages. It is also written in such a pretentious style - whoever uses the work "confrere" these days? Do yourself a favor and buy something else....more info
  • Numbers and Sense
    For anyone who works in digital marketing, internet advertising, online marketing, etc., (I fall into all of those categories and have since the mid-90's), this is a delicious read. Baker lets us peer into the minds and business models of what are essentially mathematical probability companies. It's a highly engrossing read, made more so for me personally since I know one of the data wizards referenced in the book. What I also like about the book is that it lets you draw your own conclusions on topics such as privacy without overly burdening the reader with a dogmatic point of view. All in all, I would (and have) recommend this book to a friend or ten in the "business" and really for anyone who has a passing interest in the implicit and explicit categorization of our lives. I can't wait to see what Baker tackles for his next book....more info
  • The Archetypes Behind the Numbers
    Well worth the price of admission. The contribution is not so much in the reminder that we are in a data-rich information age and the tech-heads rule the world; we've known that for at least a decade (And have had plenty of time to prepare). I found useful and entertaining the broad archetypal sweep of the book, from Blogger to Lover; the data story is fully conveyed in its social and psychological context.THE NUMERATI is also helped by personalizing the narrative. The author uses notables such as Dave Morgan (Founder of Tacoda and impressive to say the least)to help carry and intepret the story. THE NUMERATI is about "towering complexities." It's also a very good read. ...more info
  • A good math read for the non-numerati
    The Numerati by Steve Baker really gets one thinking about the power of the data trails that we leave behind us at every step and click. While I started to get a bit paranoid reading "The Worker" chapter, I was hopeful during "The Patient" chapter and finished the book with a smile reading "The Lover" chapter. (The other chapters were engaging as well.)

    This was a very readable, informative and enjoyable book. It provides plenty of interesting -- even poignant -- anecdotes AND hard facts. Steve Baker explains the math and numbers aspect of what is happening all around us with clarity and humor. (Love the spitball story.) ...more info
  • Too Simplistic
    Quantitative profiling of human behavior ranges from the beneficial (recommendation engines for books and movies) to the scary (employer and police monitoring), and everything in between. "Numerati" provides a journalistic introduction to this topic, that is easy to read and understand. I found it way too simplified, though:

    1. The author treats this technology as a "black box" which makes it seem almost miraculous to the uninitiated reader. The first requirement in writing about any technology is to explain what it can and can't do; the book does not provide enough information about this.

    2. Like all technology it has both good and bad uses (and most uses are good in some ways and bad in other ways), but the book does not provide enough information about the social and policy tradeoffs inherent in its development, use, and regulation.

    In summary, the book provides a readers with a very basic introduction to the brave new world of statistical profiling, but doesn't explain enough about the technology or its consequences to be really satisfying....more info
  • some very nice examples
    The Numerati contains a wealth of very nice examples of the ways in which fast and ubiquitous computer chips along with improved software and data mining techniques will affect us (mostly for the good)....more info
  • Too verbose
    I am a retired "numerata", i.e. I was an operations research analyst; this of course may color my judgment. Baker succeeds in giving a nice, impressionistic feel for the many tools involved, but is way too verbose. I was most interested in the specific applications. He did a very good job with the political applications, and in giving a feel for how we might be able to monitor and predict terrorist behavior in the future.

    One statistic amazed me: there are over 200,000 observational cameras in London today....more info
  • Entertaining but not enough substance
    I became interested in this book after reading the companion cover story in BusinessWeek. Although the stories and interviews were interesting, I thought the book fell short on connecting the math beyond the most basic concepts.

    Baker admits he was a liberal arts major in college and doesn't pretend to fully understand the math behind the analysis. Obviously, an in-depth mathematical discussion would have been beyond the grasp of most readers and presumably the author. However, a little more detail on the methodologies beyond the simplistic descriptions would have given the book more substance and utility.

    Data Mining and Data Warehousing have been around for many years. Retailers have used it extensively to understand their customers. Yet, Baker fails to discuss these established practices and compare them with this new emerging area.

    Baker spends most of his book describing the people he interviews in a series of stories. The book is an easy read and is entertaining. If you read for entertainment and are interested in this subject, you will probably like this book. However, if you read for knowledge and are looking for a good, informative business book on this subject, it may disappoint you.
    ...more info
  • Journalist scared by math, writes content-free book
    The science of data-mining is gaining in sophistication, but don't look to this book for any real understanding. Baker has written a book containing very little actual information content. He does not even attempt to convey how these techniques work or what their limitations are. Instead he paints a picture of a sinister and not-too-human "Numerati" that is handling our data while spurning basic social skills. It's a comic book plot that takes the place of any actual factual information. All you come away with is the idea that Baker is scared of what mathematicians are doing. 90% of the book is fluff....more info
  • Quants are measuring humanity!
    IBM, Google, Accenture, Carnegie Mellon, Intel, Mayo Clinic used mathematical models to do data mining on consumer patterns. The book is an easy read. You do not need any mathematical or quantitative background.

    Yes, data modeling and data mining existed for many years. Modeling human behavior to find the niche in marketing, remain to be the research processes that these companies are working on.

    For years, marketing is being creative, trying to design the best ad that sells. With quants marching in the room, marketing is very different today. This book will be better if more data or analysis can be presented. ...more info
  • Yet another non-scientist steps out of his realm and into fear journalism
    There has been a string lately of non-scientists trying to explain science and technology to laypeople. Malcolm Gladwell, a NY Times columnist, started off the latest round of these books with "The Tipping Point". Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, made his bid for fame with "The Long Tail". There have been a number of others as well, meeting with varying degrees of success.

    The problems with most, if not all, of these books is that 1) they are written by journalists of some kind, 2) not scientists, 3) typically promote fear of "privacy invasion", "subliminal advertising" and such in order to sell their books.

    Baker chooses to tread in the well-worn grooves begun by Vance Packard in 1957 with his The Hidden Persuaders. That book proclaimed that "subliminal advertising" and other tricks advertisers had learned would compel people to buy things they didn't want. Packard's theories, of course, were vividly proven by the wild success of the Ford Edsel and Coca-Cola's New Coke products.

    Here, Baker seeks to convince the naive reader that quantitative analysis is the new secret weapon that nefarious corporate biggies will use to invade our privacy, divine our most secret thoughts and compel us to act in pre-determined ways.

    Baker would have fit nicely in Joseph Pulitzer's or W. Randolph Hearst's yellow press emporiums of the late 19th Century. Fear, fear, fear - it sells books and, unfortunately, spreads ignorance.

    It is noteworthy that all five of the back cover plaudits for "The Numerati" come from authors of the same kind of pseudo-scientific, fear-mongering books and blogs.

    The contents of "The Numerati" are best summarized in the chapters on politics and dating services. Both work off the basic premise that we leave thousands, millions or even billions of bits behind us reflecting our internet use, shopping, real estate and auto ownership and that (presumably evil) aggregators gather this data and mathematicians spend their working lives trying to replicate us as datasets to not only understand us, but to manipulate us in every way.

    In the section on political forecasting, Baker's hero is trying to identify people who can be manipulated into voting Democrat. This, of course, is a noble undertaking, purported invasion of privacy and thought control be damned. Baker makes it clear he is a left-winger and even tries to play up the evil of Karl Rove by claiming Republicans won in 2000 and 2004 by pursuing "simplistic" themes, such as religious beliefs, the Second Amendment and traditional values in marriage. These things, of course, in Baker's view were evil and manipulative, organized by the Devil himself, Karl Rove.

    Josh Gutbaum, who is trying turn a buck by identifying potential Democrat voters by using all the "personal" data gleaned by the evil data aggregators is a noble saint, enlightening the ignorant masses.

    Baker has his prejudices - and no shame in following them.

    His chapter on computer dating is simply hilarious. Baker's test of a computer dating service's skill at quantitative analysis is whether or not the service will match him with his wife as a date. His great triumph is - after correcting a rather obvious error in his questionaire - is being matched with his wife. Of course, they did collaborate while filling out the questionaires.

    In sum, this book is useful only to gain a superficial overview of what is going on in some areas with quantitative analysis. There is no science here, which is one of the selling points of the book: no math. There is also a lot of fear mongering about loss of privacy. Well, as many people in the technology industry know, personal privacy is a nonsensical concept. Ever since the New Deal, government has made knowing as much about you as possible a priority. Business, particularly since the birth of the consumer era, has done the same. Worker's Paradises like the Soviet Union, Communist China, Germany of the 1930s delighted college professors and journalists with their ability to know everything about everyone so the could be prosecuted, imprisoned and killed as enemies of the people.

    So, now Baker has his book of quasi-science and it is revered by people like Chris Anderson, who not coincidentally, also has his quasi-science book. You can read it if you like, but don't expect to find any serious thinking in its pages.

    Jerry...more info
  • Fascinating look at what "the Numerati" are doing with personal data
    We leave personal data out there at just about everything we do, using our shopping loyalty card, visiting websites, etc. This book looks into what is actually being done with the tsunami of personal data we give out everywhere.

    In "The Numerati" (244 pages), author Stephen Baker takes us on a journey of what actually happens with these personal data we leave out there, whether we like it or not, whether we volunteer for it or not. The book is organized in seven chapters (Worker; Shopper; Voter; Blogger; Terrorist; Patient; Lover) and in each of them, the author examines the wave of personal data, and more importantly, what happens to those data. "Those of us yielding cell phones, laptops and credit cards fatten our digital dossiers every day, simply by living", notes the author. By shopping the way you do, the Numerati are now figuring out what it will take to sway you away from one brand to another. The day that you will have a screen on your shopping cart that you'll scan with your Kroger loyalty card so that it will lead you to the things you really want (or think you want) are not far off apparently. The mining of data for political purposes is already in full force (the Obama campaign has set a new standard) and it will only get more sophisticated from here on.... The data that are retrieved from the 20 million or so bloggers out there is mind-boggling. There a computers out there that scan those blogs to retrieve data and try and make use of them, As the author notes, "it takes me a scandalous five minutes to read through her blog. In that time, Umbria's computers work through 35,500 blog posts". Wow.

    The book gets really interesting in the "Terrorist" chapter. I don't want to give too much away, you'll just have to read it for yourself. But bottom line, this is a terrific red, and also a somewhat intimidating one, as you come to realize that there really is no such thing as true privacy if you are out there just living your life. Highly recommended!...more info
  • They Have Your Number
    It may be that you have a "shopper's card" at your local grocery; you hand it to the teller as you check out, and the computer registers, besides what the total is and how the store's inventory will need to be restocked, just what the purchases were for you as a specific individual shopper. Maybe it will mail you some coupons on items it can tell you will be interested in, based on what you have already bought. Not too interesting, not too challenging for the computer, not too intrusive. But what will happen when you get a smart cart at the store? That's one that will welcome your insertion of your shopper's card, and then tell you what your shopping list usually looks like so you don't forget anything, where today's bargains are (in other words, what the store manager is trying to offload), and the fastest route through the aisles so you can get everything you need. If this sounds like it could be a useful tool for you, and also sounds a little creepy because of all the information the store (and the cart) knows about you, it's just the beginning. You may well want to see what else those who are mining your personal information are up to by reading _The Numerati_ (Houghton Mifflin) by Stephen Baker. Baker is a business journalist who wants to let us know about a new reach of mathematics into our lives. There are no equations here, just stories of the mathematicians and computer geeks that use them to find and exploit patterns of our day-to-day existence. Baker has cast some light onto many facets of an arcane realm of number crunchers, and has written a book that is entertaining and often disconcerting.

    You can decide that you do not want to have a shopper's card. You can also decide that you do not want a cell phone, you never want to purchase anything on a credit card, or you do not wish to use an internet search engine. If you do volunteer for such activities, the Numerati have you. You cannot help but leave a digital trail. Most of Baker's chapters involve his looking into a particular realm of number crunching, interviewing the geeks and mathematicians who are involved, describing what has been done so far, and explaining the prospects for the not-too-distant future. Perhaps the brightest prospects for data mining are medical. Patients will do nothing extra to deliver information; it will just be monitored passively. Imagine a bed equipped with sensors that would tell how many hours we are actually spending in it, or how much tossing or turning we do, or how many times we get up for a bathroom break and how much fluid is lost on each such trip. Maybe there will be magic carpet on the floor of an elderly patient's house; it could register weight gain, or a new peculiarity in gait, or a fall, or even if the patient has stopped moving around the house during the day.

    Privacy concerns are valid; it remains to be seen how much each of us will have to re-think what privacy actually means. There could also be moral questions involved; if you could make a mathematical model of a pedophile, and your church or school screens job applicants using such a model, and the screen says a candidate is an 85% fit, what is the right thing to do (and, an entirely separate question, what will be the thing to do to minimize legal liability)? And that percentage fit - it's going to be what any Numerati have to put up with, because any prediction or pattern can only indicate not reality, not truth, but mere probability. Several of the boffins interviewed here say that as complicated as are the mathematical algorithms to turn people into data, the math is the easy part; it's the humans that are hard to figure out. It is surprising, too, how simple tasks are actually monumental; terrorist watch lists of mere names present a nightmare, as any non-terrorist traveler who has a similar name will tell you. Internationalizing such data is a horrendous task; the Chinese alone, for instance, spell Osama Bin Laden eleven different ways. Baker's brightly-written and enthusiastic book presents pleasing pictures of how our numbers will come up in the future, and emphasizes those without neglecting to mention the darker issues of data misuse. He even did his own little experiment that verified something information techs have known since the most primitive of electronic computers. He and his wife filled out questionnaires at a dating site, and were dismayed that the computer did not point them in each other's direction as potential matches. It turns out that Baker had mistakenly excluded women of his wife's age. The verification: garbage in, garbage out.
    ...more info
  • Enjoyable Read
    I picked up this book after reading a review for it in the Economist. It was an enjoyable read, though i wish that it got more specific at times. Would recommend to anyone that wants to put a toe in the world of data mining....more info
  • Numerati review
    Imagine that you are hiking through the woods, as you move through the trail you leave behind a series of clues that a tracker could follow and interpret. If the tracker was skillful enough they would be able to accurately estimate you weight, height, speed, and perhaps even determine where you are heading. Back at your home, you leave a similar sort of trail daily as you go about your normal routine: buying groceries, shopping online, reading blogs, surfing the internet. This is your data trail and there are modern day trackers who are following it. Stephen Baker calls them the Numerati and it is these people who are the subject of his book

    The Numerati are a diverse group of mathematicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs who are tracking you as you leave your imprint in the data world in pursuit of a pot of gold - you. Or not really you, but a model of you. A model that allows the Numerati to not only understand where you've been, but predict how you will act. The goal of these models is a complete understanding of our most basic wants, desires, and fears and how they guide our behavior. It is in the predictive ability of these models where in lies the pot of gold. Governments, businesses, political parties are all willing to pay a great deal of money to have access to these models and each of these parties wants a particular model of your behavior.

    It is these specific models of us as consumers, lovers, voters etc. that provide an allow Mr. Baker to provide interesting insights into the inner world of the Numerati. structures his book using various personas or archetypes Lover, Voter, Consumer etc., so further investigate the inner workings of the Numerati. Attempting to model complete individuals is too complex, but providing smaller, more discrete models of particular aspects of our behavior are much more predictive and therefore valuable to those who are interested in manipulating or persuading us.

    So is this good or bad? Mr. Baker is suitably neutral in his treatment as the models in themselves have no moral value, but only predictive value. But he does not ignore the moral dimension as he does provide examples of how some of his subjects express reservations about how their research is being applied. But Mr. Baker takes a much more pragmatic view of the industry, it exists and is not likely to disappear, it has too much value to the powers that be, so it is better to shine a light on it so that we can better understand its implications. And if this was his goal, Mr. Baker has succeeded.

    Michael Trumper, author of

    Project Decisions: The Art and Science

    ...more info
  • Consumer empowerment and the Numerati
    As the chief marketing officer of Fair Isaac, I work daily with many of the Numerati that Stephen Baker so elegantly describes. However, I do not subscribe to the idea that all quantification and normalization of consumer data carries a nefarious purpose. Indeed, the societal value and impact of a given technology is generally determined by how this technology is applied and not by the technology itself.

    As an example, Fair Isaac applies statistical analysis to the granting and administration of loans by establishing a standard credit scoring service ( This quantitative approach, as pointed out by Stephen Baker, enables equal opportunity banking by not discriminating on the basis of anything but numbers. Another benefit is the empowerment of consumers who can now directly monitor the health of their credit by subscribing to this service. It may even entice someone to go on a credit diet!

    In a global and connected economy the usage of well designed algorithms applied across vast data sets can help greatly in improving transparency and accountability....more info
  • success
    This book is outstanding--whether read by math geeks or folks just trying to make sense out of zillions of data points. ...more info
  • Algorithms
    Each of us is more than a number: we're the product of complicated algorithms. That's what I concluded after reading Stephen Baker's book, The Numerati. Many smart mathematicians are developing all sorts of ways to predict our behavior, and Baker presents some of the ways in which that is happening. Baker is a Business Week reporter, and confesses to being more liberal arts major than math wiz. Thanks to that perspective, The Numerati provides a sweeping exploration of data mining without plodding down in details that might be of interest only to algorithm writers. Baker structures The Numerati to describe how our personal information is gathered and used in seven dimensions of our lives: worker, shopper, voter, blogger, terrorist, patient and lover. In each of those chapters, I learned something new, and winced or laughed often. If you're looking for a general overview on the many ways in which personal information is being gathered, analyzed and used, this book provides such an overview.

    Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
    ...more info