Monday, February 13, 2017

Algorithms run your life

Algorithm.
An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. The big computers behind everything today use algorithms.

Consider Facebook.
Every time you open Facebook, one of the world’s most influential, controversial, and misunderstood algorithms springs into action. It scans and collects everything posted in the past week by each of your friends, everyone you follow, each group you belong to, and every Facebook page you’ve liked. For the average Facebook user, that’s more than 1,500 posts. If you have several hundred friends, it could be as many as 10,000. Then, according to a closely guarded and constantly shifting formula, Facebook’s news feed algorithm ranks them all, in what it believes to be the precise order of how likely you are to find each post worthwhile. Most users will only ever see the top few hundred.
That's not all, of course.


When you browse online for a new pair of shoes, pick a movie to stream on Netflix or apply for a car loan, an algorithm likely has its word to say on the outcome. The complex mathematical formulas are playing a growing role in all walks of life: from detecting skin cancers to suggesting new Facebook friends, deciding who gets a job, how police resources are deployed, who gets insurance at what cost, or who is on a "no fly" list.
Algorithms have a dark side.
Algorithms are used by governments and corporations alike to try and foresee the future and inform decision making. Google, for example, uses algorithms to auto-fill its search box as you type into it and to rank the websites it lists after you hit the return button, directing you to certain websites over others. Self-driving cars use algorithms to decide their route and speed, and potentially even whom to run over in an emergency situation. 
Financial corporations use algorithms to assess your risk profile, to determine whether they should give you a loan, credit card or insurance. If you are lucky enough to be offered one of their products, they will then work out how much you should pay for that product. Employers do the same to select the best candidates for the job and to assess their workers' productivity and abilities. 
Even governments around the world are becoming big adopters of algorithms. Predictive policing algorithms allow the police to focus limited resources on crime hotspots. Border security officials use algorithms to determine who should be on a no-fly list. Judges could soon use algorithms to determine the re-offending risk of an offender and select the most appropriate sentence.
I'm concerned about our digital masters like Google and Facebook determining what we know.

No comments:

Post a Comment