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The Silicon Jungle

Shumeet Baluja
Princeton University Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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The plot of this book will frighten some, concern others and have been fairly obvious to others, all depending on your familiarity with the amount of data being collected on people and what is being done with it. If you are familiar with what is being done in the area of data collection and cross-referencing, then none of the revelations about data use will be new to you.

Stephen Thorpe is one of the founders of an internet company that made an initial splash, grew quickly and then fell into the pit of bankruptcy. He now works in the IT department at GreeneSmart, a large environmentally aware retailer; his main job is troubleshooting routine computer problems. Molly is another employee and she helps convince him that he is destined for great things. Ubatoo is a large technology company that offers many services and gathers an enormous amount of data about the people that use those services. Stephen is convinced to apply for an internship program at Ubatoo and he is one of very few of the hundreds of applicants accepted.

When Stephen begins his work he is given tasks to cross-reference data about people in order to mine out key similarities and congruences that can be used in targeted advertising. He also meets Sebastin, the head of a group that is trying to protect civil liberties against the encroachment of government spying and intrusion. When Sebastin asks Stephen to carry out a study based on the people interested in a set of books that Sebastin provides, the paths along the massively connected and weighted graph leads him to a group of likely terrorists. This piques the interest of some members of the government security forces that take a dim and unsympathetic view of Stephen and Ubatoo.

While this is a work of fiction, Ubatoo is a very thinly disguised reference to a large technology company with a name like an extremely large number. The tension is based on a desire to make technology work, a corporate strategy to tell people to do great things while making sure you look the other way and the current terrorist paranoia of the American government. There are many different wrongs in this book and there is no possible way that any subset of them can be added up to make a right.

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

The table of contents is not available.