Thursday, November 1, 2018

Book Review: 'The Mathematical Corporation: Where Machine Intelligence and Human Ingenuity Achieve the Impossible' by Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern

The Mathematical Corporation: Where Machine Intelligence and Human Ingenuity Achieve the Impossible
By Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern

Review by Robert Morris

Up front, I share a response to this book’s subtitle: Whatever is achievable is not impossible; rather, it has not as yet been achieved. However, I wholly agree with Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern that – with rare exception -- a superior machine in collaboration with a superior human will outperform a superior machine or a superior human working alone. It is also true that there are certain tasks that a superior machine cannot do or do better than can a superior human...and vice versa.

What Sullivan and Zutavern characterize as “the cost-effective answer in their book.

Readers will appreciate the provision of mini-case studies of several mathematical corporations that Bloomberg LP, Ford Motor Company, GlaxoSmithKline, InterContinental Hotels Group, Merck, and Tesla as well as the Center for Prevention of Genocide, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Army, and U.S. Census Bureau. All have made highly innovative use of analytics, artificial intelligence, and big data (including smart data). Yes, these are all large organizations but the lessons learned from their initiatives can be of substantial value to leaders in almost any other organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

Sullivan and Zutavern provide an Afterword that is more forward-thinking than most. They concede, “many problems that seemed intractable are not. Solutions that seemed out of the question are not.” I agree. In a world that has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember, an observation by Oliver Wendell Holmes more than a century ago seems uniquely relevant: “I would not give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity. Alan Perlis agrees: “Simplicity does not precede complexity, it follows it.”

Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern review key principles that will guide and inform efforts by increasingly more capable humans and machine, working in collaboration: complexity is a boon, not a burden; the machine works better than the gut; machine models top mental models; solutions don’t require logic; create value by giving it away; break through without experience; and perfect launches lose to imperfect ones. Perhaps channeling Albert Einstein, they urge us think about the mathematical corporation as simply as possible…but no simpler.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Robert Morris. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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