Updated: Mar 23, 2019
This is an article reflecting ideas on Tarleton Gillespie's essay "Algorithm [draft] [#digitalkeywords]"
In our contemporary era, where technology is accessible and part of our lives, people tend to keep looking the solution to their problems in an algorithm.
How can I go there? When is my next appointment? What is the weather tomorrow?
Not that this is the only approach a human has on the algorithm but mainly algorithm is a tool that will make a task for us, faster, and more accurate.
In this essay, Tarleton Gillespie describes different approaches of this technological innovation we call algorithm.
I have always liked programming, as an idea, as a tool, as a practice. I like to know that I can make the tool that will do my job again and again.
For their creators, the algorithms are the product of their work, a model that gives the user results. Personally, the most significant idea in this essay is the way algorithm designers structure these tools with data from the real life without really being concern how significant is the role of these data for the functionality of the algorithm and how they influence the results.
It’s just data.
// Like if I want to program my computer to play a bell sound I have to put on the raw a series of sine waves in specific deferent frequencies, the harmonics of the sound.
The frequencies are our data. If I put different data I will have a different sound.
This approach is the key to the beginning of this conversation in this essay. On the one hand, we have “logical series of steps”, as the author refers, on the other hand, an social interaction to arise through the use of these data. But how then an algorithm can be accurate when the data from our everyday lives changing every second of our existence.
// An algorithm which estimates the arrivals of the trains at the stations is very good example. It happens very often that the trains status boards say that the train will come in 1 minute and this 1 minute eventually lasts for 2 or more minutes.
That means that the algorithm is missing some data or that some given data have been changed therefore it can not be accurate.
Besides the data that influence the effectiveness of algorithms, a relevant aspect is that behind algorithms there is human logic, a group of people who influence the outcome and the functionality of it and who at the same time they do not realize the importance of their work to the society. That means how they influence the evolution of society.
A very good example of it the advertisement on the internet. I strongly believe that the programmers who work on the algorithms that advertise products on the web had no interest in the consequences of his work. Either it's an unethical, misleading advertisement or just annoying to the reader. (Moustafa, 2016, Internet and Advertisement)
Having analyzed the producer-product relationship we are led to the issue that a lot of people who use the algorithms as their tools don’t know and they don’t need to know how they work. That means to me they also don’t understand the above aspects.
On the previous example with the train cancellations, imagine how easy it would be to blame the algorithm for a possible delay in your work.
At his point, I believe we are lead on a vicious circle. Our need for tools that will help our everyday lives give authority to designers to create algorithmic principals that will use aspects and data of our lives to create them. Then the use of these specific data which doesn’t severally reflects on everyone, and they change during the time, influence the way we use the tools and the results they produce, creating this way new data and more needs for new tools or updated tools and so on.
We are part of the creation of algorithms, therefore, we are victims/slaves of their outcomes.
Having this in mind, we can understand why the author concludes on the idea that a lot of time people give a great authority to computers and unknown technologies for their results. They don’t realize how they affect the creation of each algorithm, therefore, they cannot take the blame for any mistake. In fact, people don’t understand that they do not take the blame of their own fault.
To sum up, algorithms are the contemporary tools of our lives, like a toothbrush or a screwdriver or a knife, there is good and bad quality. There are algorithms that need development and algorithms that use data in a wrong way, but also people have critical thinking which makes them capable to decide which tool to use and how to use it. And of course to be able to take responsibility of any possible unlikeable results.
After all, humans make the machines and not the vice versa.
Gillespie, T. and Gillespie, T. (2014). Algorithm [draft] [#digitalkeywords] – Culture Digitally. [online] Culturedigitally.org. Available at: http://culturedigitally.org/2014/06/algorithm-draft-digitalkeyword/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2018].
Moustafa, K. (2016). Internet and Advertisement. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22(1), pp.293-296.