Algorithms to Live By
The Computer Science of Human Decisions

- Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths


A fascinating exploration of how computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives, helping to solve common decision-making problems and illuminate the workings of the human mind

All our lives are constrained by limited space and time, limits that give rise to a particular set of problems. What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of new activities and familiar favorites is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not: computers, too, face the same constraints, so computer scientists have been grappling with their version of such problems for decades. And the solutions they’ve found have much to teach us.

In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, acclaimed author Brian Christian (who holds degrees in computer science, philosophy, and poetry, and works at the intersection of all three) and Tom Griffiths (a UC Berkeley professor of cognitive science and psychology) show how the simple, precise algorithms used by computers can also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one’s inbox to understanding the workings of human memory, Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.



waste of time:

Do you want to overthink and complicate every single decision in your life? Then read this book!


In all honesty, I think I went into Algorithms to Live By with the wrong mentality. I was expecting more of a self-help book, not a literal explanation of algorithms used to make decisions. You’ve really got to love either maths or computer science (preferably both!) to enjoy this book. I can appreciate this book and the effort behind it but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it.


Besides this, prepare yourself for the most random popular culture references possible. One chapter somehow found its way from an X-Files vampire distracted by sunflower seeds to a Mitch Hedberg casino joke. They’re varied and seemingly random and sometimes it feels like you can’t make it through a paragraph without at least one wacky reference. I’m not sure if this was an attempt to make the material more relatable or if the authors really are just incredibly eccentric. Either way, I found it to be jarring at times to jump from a mathematical proof to a seemingly random reference, which often felt it was barely related.


I would recommend this book to anyone interested in maths, computers, or in working out how the brain makes decisions (or should make decisions in an ideal world). I do think it would have been more enjoyable if I had gone into it with a better idea of the book’s purpose. As it is, it just didn’t work for me.


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