The Giant Oak Essential 16
by Kristina Drye, on Jun 29, 2021 4:36:38 PM
When I began my job at Giant Oak, I knew nothing about artificial intelligence, money laundering, or any of the illicit activity we work to identify. Coming from a background of conflict and identity, I knew a lot about other things – but not what I needed to know to be the asset I wanted to be for Giant Oak.
Over the past two years, I’ve read and learned a lot about the topics that Giant Oak covers – and it’s a lot! As a small team, we cover a lot of ground. We need to understand how artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data work, which requires a bit of familiarity with the science; we need to be aware of the social implications of that work, which requires an understanding of equality, equity, and disparate impact versus disparate treatment; and we work with both financial institutions and law enforcement institutions, which demands an understanding of illicit activities from each of those perspectives. For example, what illicit activities exist, and how do financial institutions interact with them versus law enforcement? For this, I looked toward education on corruption, compliance and risk, money laundering, and terrorist financing, as well as the organizational makeup of terrorist cells, the use of funding for conflict and crime rings, and both the victim and trafficker perspectives of all forms of trafficking.
Listed in no particular order are the books I’ve read on my journey to understand all things Giant Oak.
1. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach Third Edition, Stuart J. Russel and Peter Norvig
This book is a behemoth and I read it in small bits. Though I do not consider myself a scientist, as a communicator and representative I believe it’s necessary to have a functional understanding of the technology. This is a formal textbook though, so it’s a great resource but not a required read.
2. Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan
Naked Statistics is a short, accessible approach to the basics of statistics. Wheelan uses familiar examples and an easy tone to offer the reader an introductory understanding of a topic that’s usually really overwhelming.
3. Mastering ‘Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect by Joshua D. Angrist and Jorn-Steffen Pischke
Also a textbook, this is a great education into measuring cause and effect. While these topics were out of my “wheelhouse”, I think it’s important to understand how scientists that build tools measure cause and effect in human affairs, and how the computer does as well; I also think that in fields like compliance, risk, and screening, where decisions are made every day using causal inference, it’s important to understand what’s happening both on paper, in the math, and in our own (very human) brains.
4. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics for this work, and it’s very clear why. The key for me was to understand that economics, rather than being boring topic separate of human behavior, is a reflection of it. Kahneman takes this and explores the two modes of thinking – “fast”, or what our biases tell us quickly when we process information, and “slow”, or how we can work through our biases to make more informed decisions. It’s a must-read, and a very fun and engaging one.
5. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
This book explores the role that humans, as creatures that can critically think by drawing on a variety, or “range” of experiences, can play in a world that is growing more automated and, by extension, more specialized. A computer can do a specific task very fast and very well – but a human can take a variety of experiences and make insights based on that that a computer could never do. A great read as we all adopt advanced technologies in our lives and our enterprises.
6. The Creativity Code: How AI Is Learning to Write, Paint, and Think by Marcus du Sautoy
I love art and study culture as part of my own academic work. I was interested in how AI can emulate what I consider to be the most human thing possible- expressing the world that we live in. Sautoy does a great job of exploring how AI is learning to express, and what that could mean as it continues to get better. He leaves the answer to “what is art” to you, though – which is great, because there’s no right, or easy, answer!
7. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil
This book is, unfortunately, the only book on this list that is written by a woman. It speaks to the makeup of the fields of AI and economics today, and I think we can all do better. That might correlate with the fact that this book is probably one of the most critical on this list, and that’s a good thing! This book offers few solutions, but great explorations of how AI and advanced technologies disproportionately affect populations that have been historically disadvantaged. You learn how AI negatively impacts hiring, firing, healthcare, education, and any variety of social experiences. A must-read, because anyone in this field has a duty to be critical of it as we all work toward the best solutions possible.
8. Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective by Siddharth Kara
Siddharth Kara is one of the leading experts on trafficking, and there’s a reason two of his books are on this list. This one, his most recent, covers all trafficking as a global phenomenon. Human trafficking encompasses sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and organ trafficking, and this work covers all three. It also has a fantastic chapter on the role of advanced technology in combating trafficking, which is topical for most people in this field. And gives some hope!
9. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara
The second book by Kara on this list, this book goes into detail about sex trafficking specifically, rather than focusing on all forms of human trafficking. Kara presents all of his own research and experiences, and it’s an informative, if difficult, read.
10. The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation by Carl Benedikt Frey
This is probably my favorite on the list – it’s engaging, novel, and insightful. Frey covers the history of economics and technological revolutions throughout history, including the Industrial Revolution. His thesis – that automation is a net positive in the long run but will be accompanied by net negative in the short run – is interesting and backed up by great research and lots of historical tidbits.
11. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie
I’d never thought about the organization of crime rings before joining Giant Oak, but needed to understand them. This book explores the history of the Sicilian Mafia the Cosa Nostra, down to the stories of violence and the organizational structure. It’s at once entertaining and delightfully informative.
12. The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations by Dr. Jacob N. Shapiro
This book is written by a member of our staff, Dr. Jake Shapiro, and it’s a great accompaniment to both John Dickie’s book, above, and Eli Berman’s book, below. Dr. Shapiro explores the makeup and management of violent organizations, and the patterns of behavior they display in the marketing and day-to-day organization of them. If you can detect patterns of communication, organization, or language, you can track an organization or identify it – and that’s the “dilemma” referred to in the title. Covert, then, is a misnomer. A great read for the work we do.
13. Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism by Eli Berman
This one is rather academic, but goes a long way to exploring and describing the economic incentives and benefits of radical organizations and radical violent ones. When looking for patterns of human behavior as a component of either building an algorithm, or using one, this helps give critical context to those actions.
I have to offer disclosure here because the CEO of Giant Oak is the author, and I was employed to edit it – but apart from those affiliations, this is a great look at Dr. Shiffman’s work and research, which formed the basis for Giant Oak's (and GOST’s) operations and mission. How can we move beyond “identity labels” in identifying violence, to using measurable patterns of human behavior instead? It’s a good read, an engaging read, but also an insightful one.
15. Conformity by Cass R. Sunstein
Cass Sunstein is an accomplished economist and also a veteran of public service from the Obama Administration. He’s written other books, including Nudge, but this one was interesting to me because it explores the phenomenon of conformity and groupthink as part and parcel of our digitalizing lives. A short, engaging read (with a beautiful cover, if that matters), it’s a nice introduction to the power of economics as a tool for measuring and understanding human behavior, especially as technology continues to impact our lives.
16. Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff
This is more of a manifesto than an academic work, but the author is a well-known thought leader in this space and the host of the “Team Human” podcast. It’s a quick read that explores the ways that our technologies, markets, and cultural institutions isolate and repress us rather than bringing us together, as they once did. He proposes how we can work together to make society work as a team, rather than the individualized result it now begets. It’s written in small numbered chunks, which allows you as a reader to really identify with some sentiments – and disagree with others!
I hope these books are as valuable and enlightening for you as they were for me.
Kristina Drye is the Manager of Strategic Communications at Giant Oak, Inc., where she focuses on science communication, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the future of the human in an automated world. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, an M.A. in Security Studies from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and graduate credit from the American University of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kristina’s expertise includes the security intersection of state building, conflict resolution, peacebuilding processes, and diplomacy, with a strong area expertise of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Kristina’s previous employment includes positions at the European Parliament and the World Affairs Council of Charlotte.