Programming Collective Intelligence Review

This is a review I wrote on Amazon for Programming Collective Intelligence by Toby Segaran. I decided I should post a copy of it here for safe keeping. I hope to write a more detailed review of it at some point, but we’ll see how far that idea gets.

I first learned of this book just a few weeks ago, shortly before it was available. I immediately read the sample chapter on the publisher’s website and was certain I had to get a hold of a copy.

I was not in the least bit disappointed with what I found. It has been quite a while since I’ve looked at any Python code (I’m more of a Ruby fan, personally), but the code is easy to follow and it’s a simple matter to extract the basic concepts into any language.

I have spent quite a few years now watching the field of machine intelligence from the sidelines, occasionally reading the odd technical write up or wikipedia article, trying to wrap my brain around the basic ideas. The thing is, it’s not clear to me that in some regards, it’s not that complex. It’s just that most of the existing books and articles are written for those immersed in the field. This book is not like that. It explains things in clear language that is easy to follow, using simplified examples and making excellent use of graphics to “show” you how it works.

If you really want to dig in deep, Segaran provides exercises at the end of each chapter and gives you an appendix full of mathematical formulas (the “pure” representation of the algorithms).

Finally, I should mention that the last chapter does what so many other technical books should but don’t: it clearly summarizes everything he has shown you. He does this in a straightforward way so that you won’t have to go searching through the book, rereading everything again, to put these techniques into practice.