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Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini ****
This is a rarity I’ve only seen once before (Your Money and Your Brain) – a business/popular science crossover. It contains fifty examples of ways to persuade
your customers, co-workers or others to change their behaviour, but instead of being a typical business book, driven from experience, this is driven from experiment.
It starts with the classic example of the use of our need to conform to what others do, looking at the little sign in a hotel that requests you re-use towels to save the environment. The sign is changed to say that most guests re-use towels to save the environment, resulting in significantly more re-use. The book goes on to catalogue the many ways that we can influence others, often with very subtle changes of approach. The way, for instance that adding ‘even a penny will help’ will increase giving to charity – recognizing that we don’t like to make large commitments, and that once we’ve overcome reluctance to act at all, we will go significantly further than you might expect. (It’s just a shame this message isn’t properly understood by those charities who say ‘just give £2′ but then consistently pester you for more to the extent you never give to them again don’t have the same idea.)
There are two reasons that the book doesn’t make a full five stars. Firstly, the examples rather tail off. You get the ideas they set out to have 50 secrets first, then tried to fill the slots. They didn’t have enough great material, so padded it with ‘persuasionish’ stuff – so some of the ‘secrets’ feel a little flimsy. The other issue is that this is a business book that does science, rather than a science book covering business. There is rarely enough detail of the studies to know about how they really worked, and it’s rarely stated (for instance) how large the study was, or whether it was duplicated, which may mean that a fair number of the results lack true scientific validity.
However, these are relatively small issues in a book that manages to combine some very practical and effective lessons for business with some real insights into how people behave. If the writers were setting out to persuade me they knew their stuff and really could make a difference, they’ve succeeded.
Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.
Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.
I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-misse…
At first glance this might just be another 'What AI is good at and not so good at' title. And in a way, it is. But, wow, what a brilliant book! Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a tour of what artificial intelligence has achieved (and possibly can in the future achieve) in a range of fields from his own of mathematics, through game playing, music, art and more.
After a little discussion of what creativity is, we start off with the now very familiar story of DeepMind's AlphaGo and its astonishing ability to take on the hugely challenging game of Go. Even though I've read about this many times before, du Sautoy, as a Go player and mathematician, gives a real feel for why this was such a triumph - and so shocking. Not surprisingly he is also wonderful on what mathematicians actually do, how computers have helped them to date and how they have the potential to do far more in the future. After all, mathematics is by far the closest science to game playing, as it has strict rule…
Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book.
At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…