algorithms as invisible technology

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thst*2450 blog

Advanced technology has become indistinguishable from magic.

The magic behind many of our favourite technologies, however, actually has a name. Algorithms. They work so seamlessly that often, we do not realize they are there.

We don’t understand the way that our technology works, let alone the algorithms behind it, simply because we don’t have to. We get the satisfaction of technology solving our problems and making our lives easier. The best technology is the one we don’t see.

Or is it? What is it, exactly, that these predictive systems are hiding from us? And more importantly, what biases do they have?

An algorithm is an attempt to technologically simulate the way that the human mind might work. This rational decision-making process produces a certain and simple output from numerous irrational, orderless inputs. Algorithms choose what is shown to us online, and what is not. Algorithms attempt to make our chaotic world tangibly simple.

But our world and our human experience is not simple in the least.

The discussion then becomes about algorithms and neutrality. There are those who think Facebook’s news feed is neutral, because it is produced by algorithms. But those algorithms are ultimately created by humans, who, by nature, have biases.

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish sociologist studying the interactions between technology and society, believes algorithms by nature have an ingrained bias, simply because they are created by biased human beings and “they optimize output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company.”

When it comes down to it, social network’s algorithms are filters that say ‘Yes’ to some of the content we share, and ‘No’ to others, and these filters follow certain rules. That means there are theoretically as many types of algorithms as there are rules.

Algorithms are an invisible technology that we use everyday. Without them, the internet as we know it now would not exist. But this doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept whats on our feeds- on the contrary, we should be highly critical of this content. Do not trust that your social media accounts are showing you the whole picture, because even if they were, our own biases are typically reflected in our peers (ie, political affiliation).

Break out of the algorithm filter bubble. Stay woke.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/opinion/the-real-bias-built-in-at-facebook.html?_r=0

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The Author

i'm meg wilson, a twenty-two-year old feminist, researcher and english/media studies student. i'm an enfp, an aquarius, as well as a dedicated cat person.

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