Key Thoughts of book «Algorithms to Live By»

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The book is a fascinating study on how computer algorithms affect our lives, can be useful for making important decisions and help uncover the secrets of the human mind. How do computer algorithms work and how can they be useful in everyday life? Let’s take a closer look.

What are algorithms?

If you do not go into technical details, then an algorithm is just a given set of actions aimed at solving certain problems. We perform most of our vital functions on autopilot, and all because our brain already has a predetermined algorithm of actions, which we have brought to automatism. For example, cleaning the apartment. If this is not the first time you are doing this, then you already know what to do for what: first put things in their places, then dust, then vacuum and at the very end wash the floors. This is the algorithm.

Now that we understand the principle of the algorithms, let’s see how they can be useful to us:

  • They will help to put things in order anywhere: at home, at work, in the car, etc., using simple sorting tools.
  • Free you from routine and useless activities by creating simple patterns of behavior.
  • Make the decision-making process easier thanks to game theory and special constructions.

Basic principles of sorting things

World renowned scientist Albert Einstein was a walking source of chaos and confusion. His desk and apartment were littered with heaps of books, papers and things incomprehensible to a simple observer. Once Einstein, when asked about the mess on his desktop, answered:

“If everyone thinks that a mess on the table is a sign of a hectic mind, then what does a completely empty table mean?”

Obviously, the great scientist in his statement meant that empty tables are a sign of empty and ordinary brains. One can argue with the opinion of the scientist, because all modern theories of the organization of space indicate that it is easier for us to concentrate on work and focus on difficult tasks when nothing distracts us. And, if you are not a genius scientist like Albert Einstein, then the authors of the book recommend adhering to this particular model of order. 

But how to put your space in order, if chaos and confusion of things and books reigns around, like a great scientist. Three basic algorithms that are used in programming languages ​​will help us with this:

  • Bubble Sort is one of the simplest sorting algorithms found in many programming languages. Its essence is to collect pairs of the most similar objects and put them in a specific place for them. This is the perfect way to sort your books. You can select them by genre, by size, or in any other order that suits you.
  • “Sort by insertion” – the simplest sorting algorithm, in which each new element is compared with the previous one and inserted in the right place. Ideal for tidying up your wardrobe.
  • Merge Sort. The principle of the algorithm is as follows: you take an item from one section and compare it with an item from the second, third, fourth, etc. This is the perfect algorithm for sorting things in a large room. For example, put all books in a bookcase, all children’s things in a closet with toys. If a children’s toy is found on a bookcase (list no. 1), then it should be taken to a cabinet with children’s things (list no. 2).

Time organization

Have you faced such situations when planning and understanding what needs to be done at the moment took you the lion’s share of your working time? That is, instead of doing business, you spent time on what needs to be done at the moment. Using the following algorithms, you can get rid of this problem:

  • “Early due date”. This algorithm allows you to arrange tasks according to their due date (deadline). Just make a to-do list in order of priority due dates and get started. Thanks to this algorithm, you will stop wasting time on low-priority tasks.
  • Moore’s Algorithm. If you understand that not all tasks can be divided by time priority, or you have one big task, then use this algorithm. To do this, you need to skip the task that takes the most time and start performing the tasks with the highest priority at the moment.
  • “The shortest processing time.” If you have many small tasks, then, thanks to this algorithm, you can divide them according to the principle of the fastest and easiest execution. Those. first you need to take on those things that will take you the least of your time.

On the third algorithm, the author gives a small note. Its disadvantage is that in this way you will be constantly distracted by secondary tasks and postpone the main task. Therefore, use it only when the priority of tasks is approximately the same.

If you are working on one difficult task, then concentrate only on it, do not be distracted by anything, enter a state of flow and focus on work until the task is completed.

Game theory and special constructs in decision making

Game theory is one of the areas of economics that deals with decision-making options depending on specific life or simulated situations. As an example, let us cite the well-known “prisoner’s dilemma”, within the framework of which each participant in the “game” will act in his best interests. Game theory is not limited to just one “prisoner’s dilemma,” but the next time you come across a controversial issue, try to objectively examine all the facts, as well as take into account the possible actions and motives of the other side. Before proceeding in the usual way, you can try to negotiate with the other party and come to a mutually beneficial solution.

Special constructions are much easier to apply than game theory. Whenever you are faced with a difficulty in making a decision, ask yourself what situation or circumstances will help you make that decision?

For example, Evernote employees have been reluctant to go on vacation for a very long time, despite the special 1,000-dollar reward the company offered them. The management was very concerned about this issue, because without rest, employees could significantly decrease their motivation and performance. During a brainstorming session and applying the method of special designs, a solution came up – the company’s management simply obliged all employees to go on vacation when the time comes, regardless of their desire. In this way, the company created its own special design, thanks to which employees were able to maintain their health and motivation.

The main idea of ​​the book

At school and university in the lessons of mathematics, economics, programming and other technical subjects, we diligently learn formulas and algorithms, but we do not understand how they can be applied in life. Thanks to Brian Christian and his book The Life of Algorithms, we now know how much we can benefit from these obscure names and formulas. The book provides many algorithms and explains how they can be useful in everyday life and work.

Who should read the book

Anyone who is interested in the issues of personal effectiveness and self-development. The book will be especially interesting for employees of technical professions: engineers and programmers, tk. many algorithms will be familiar to them, and the recommendations of the authors will help to find new areas for applying the knowledge gained.

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August 26, 2020 |
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