Algorithms to Live By

The Computer Science of Human Decisions

“Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” is a fascinating exploration of how computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives, illuminating the workings of the human mind and helping to solve common decision-making problems. In this dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, acclaimed authors Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, a UC Berkeley professor of cognitive science and psychology, show how the simple, precise algorithms used by computers can also untangle very human questions.

All our lives are constrained by limited space and time, giving rise to a particular set of problems that may seem uniquely human but are not. Computers, too, face the same constraints, and computer scientists have been grappling with their version of such problems for decades. The solutions they’ve found have much to teach us.

Christian, who holds degrees in computer science, philosophy, and poetry, works at the intersection of all three, and Griffiths explains how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance. They also provide insights on how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one’s inbox to understanding the workings of human memory, “Algorithms to Live By” transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living.

The book explores various areas of decision-making, including scheduling tasks, choosing a partner, and making financial investments. It provides readers with insights into how computer algorithms can help us make more informed decisions in our daily lives. For example, the “explore/exploit” algorithm can be applied to dating, where one must balance between exploring new potential partners and exploiting the potential of a current relationship. The authors also explain how the “optimal stopping” algorithm can be applied to job searches, where one must decide when to accept a job offer and when to keep searching.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, “Algorithms to Live By” is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of computer science and everyday life. It offers practical advice for those looking to optimize their daily routines and decision-making processes while providing a fresh perspective on decision-making that is both enlightening and entertaining. Whether you’re a computer science enthusiast or a general reader, “Algorithms to Live By” is a book that will change the way you think about decision-making and the world around you.


This book does several things very well indeed. It introduced a broad range of Computer Science’s fundamental algorithms, explaining them simply and clearly. It shows how we might apply these algorithms in our everyday lives, to help us make more efficient and effective decisions. And it shows that even when we have the provably best means of making a decision, it might not always (or even very often) work.

It covers approaches to searching, and when to stop looking for improvements over what you already have. It discusses sorting, and tradeoffs between time spent keeping things in order, and time spent finding them later. It covers scheduling, and how the best order to do things in depends very much on what you are trying to optimize. It finishes with game theory, explaining why some situations lead to poor outcomes for all, and how understanding this can help you know how to change the situation to get better outcomes. And it does all this, and more, with a light touch that makes it very readable.

– Susan Stepney

What a truly amazing book—it uses common computer design strategies and fixes to practically and persuasively, illuminate human decision-making. It covers all sorts of tasks—making a call schedule, finding the best parking spot, managing children or adults who are challenged with limits or are prone to ignore them, and designing an auction process that rewards bidder honesty. Note that not all these problems have ideal solutions, but it can identify the few that have a clearly preferable one, some that have workable strategies, and others that are refractory to complex computer theory. It even discusses randomness and how it adds richness to our creative lives and can, in moderation, enliven our choices. Highly recommended particularly for those interested in process engineering, human behavior, and applied mathematics.

Francis O Walker


About the Authors

Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths is a prominent researcher and academic who specializes in mathematical modeling of higher-level cognition. His work focuses on understanding the formal principles that underlie our ability to solve the computational problems we face in everyday life, particularly in the realm of inductive problems such as probabilistic reasoning, language acquisition, and category formation.

Griffiths is currently the Director of the Computational Cognitive Science Lab at Princeton University, where he leads a team of researchers investigating the intersection of computer science and psychology. His research interests have led him to explore topics such as nonparametric Bayesian statistics and formal models of cultural evolution.

Griffiths is also well known for his collaboration with Brian Christian on the best-selling book “Algorithms to Live By”. In the book, Griffiths and Christian apply the principles of computer science to human decision-making, offering practical solutions to everyday problems and a fresh perspective on rational decision-making.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Griffiths is interested in the potential of big data to transform psychological research. He has authored a manifesto on the topic and is involved with the Center for Data on the Mind.

Griffiths’ academic publications are widely respected and available chronologically or by topic on Google Scholar. He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University and has taught at numerous institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, and MIT.

Brian Christian

Brian Christian is a highly acclaimed author and researcher, known for his insightful and entertaining writing on the intersection of computer science, philosophy, and poetry. He is the author of two best-selling books, “The Most Human Human” and “Algorithms to Live By” (with Tom Griffiths).

Christian’s writing has been featured in top-tier publications, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as in peer-reviewed academic journals such as Cognitive Science. He has won numerous awards for his work, including publication in Best American Science & Nature Writing and the “Tomorrow” prize for his short story “True AI”.

In addition to his writing, Christian is a sought-after speaker and has lectured at prestigious institutions including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the London School of Economics. He has also appeared on popular shows like The Daily Show and Radiolab.

Christian holds degrees in computer science, philosophy, and poetry from Brown University and the University of Washington. He is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, where he continues to pursue his research interests. Christian currently resides in San Francisco.

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