March 8, 2018

Users vs. Algorithms: And the Winner Is...

Algorithms are everywhere, controlling your digital experience in ways that can have unpalatable social implications. But every once in a while, users fight back and get the better of algorithms.

Tour The Data Mines

Just like (some) people, algorithms determine what should happen in the future based on experiences with past data. Sounds sensible, until you think about making decisions in a data tunnel devoid of context. Not to mention the fact that it’s not always apparent when algorithms are running the show. In the age of fake news, for example, it might be nice to know that Facebook’s algorithms can’t distinguish the ersatz from the real stuff. You owe it to yourself to read up on the details of the benefits and perils of a world increasingly dependent on algorithms. You can’t escape them, but you can deploy your real live human brain to put them in perspective.

YouTube Doomed Hillary Clinton!

When it comes to clickbait, it’s not just the headlines that are designed to attract us—it’s the algorithms, too. The algorithm that controls YouTube’s recommended videos, brought to life by the dreaded autoplay, has been shown to tend towards divisive content such as conspiracy theories or various permutations of Logan Paul. Here, The Guardian takes a look at how the biases in the algorithm may have impacted Clinton’s presidential bid. 

Algorithm Fan Club

Their hidden flaws make them dangerous. So why are we so dependent on algorithms? Well, because they do make our lives better. Watch Vishal Sikkaexplain what’s so great about algorithms, including the potential to advance medical understanding and pinpoint humanitarian aid. With benefits like those, it seems like worth figuring out how to eliminate the kinks.

Smarter Than An Algorithm

Gaming the system. Whether it’s a video game cheat or paying less for the subway, many find satisfaction in trying to stick it to the man. Read how this Buzzfeed contributor used Facebook’s engagement algorithm to torture her friends and family with an annoying video. In this case it’s an innocuous prank, but just like some ways of gaming the system are worse than others (think tax fraud), savvy manipulation of Facebook (hiya, Vlad!) can have elephantine consequences. 

Sorry, Everyone...

Sorry is good; change is better. Tech companies have been doing a lot of apologizing lately for gross flaws and harmful effects caused by algorithms, but is anything really going to change? Audrey Waters sees “the regret industry” as just another way of shifting the blame to individual projects, rather than instigating systematic change. Go ahead, wear your failure proud, but take a lesson from it

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