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Friday, January 20, 2017

Why is everyone talking about algorithms?

Discover Society
Originally published January 3, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The notion of the algorithm though, is also becoming really quite powerful in its own right. The very notion of the algorithm has taken on a life of its own, especially in the popular media. Algorithms are becoming the shadowy figures that in some way embody our wider fears and concerns. The visions we have of algorithms chime with broader feelings of a loss of control, of accelerated lives that are speeding away from us, of our inability to cope with the unmanageable information that we are exposed to, or the feeling that our lives are governed for us and that we have less discretion, autonomy or voice.

The talk about algorithms is a product of the powerful role of algorithms in our lives, but the talk around algorithms also seems to tap into broader concerns about powerlessness and the limitations placed on our discretion and choice. The algorithm is coming to embody the sense of life as out of our control. Algorithms are evoked to speak to these fears and concerns. This is not to say that they don’t have material influences on our lives, they clearly have powerful consequences. But the idea of the algorithm is also now a powerful presence, jumping out suddenly from the mass of code within which everyday life is lived to give us the occasional fright or to remind us of our sense of limited autonomy.

The article is here.