Experts On The Pros & Cons of Algorithms

Research. As with everything else there are pros and cons when it comes to algorithms. Are the glass half-full or half empty? Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners and government leaders. They asked:  Will the net overall effect of algorithms be positive for individuals and society or negative for individuals and society in the next decade? Some 1,302 responded.

by Edan Cohen, unsplash.com

Algorithms are recipes for the internet. It is used in search engines, spam filters, video games, recommendation engines, social media and news feeds and maps. They are often invisible, and they are getting smarter and smarter.  Some believe they will mainly be of benefit to humans and society, others  worry that it will be the opposite. The non-scientific canvassing found that 38% of these particular respondents predicted that the positive impacts of algorithms will outweigh negatives for individuals and society in general, while 37% said negatives will outweigh positives; 25% said the overall impact of algorithms will be about 50-50, positive-negative.

Below is a resumé of the pros and cons.

PROS

  • They help humans make more rational decisions based on evidence, wisdom and mathematically verified steps
  • They give us connectivity and can thus recommend a movie or a healthy combination of food for dinner.
  • More people will be able to obtain loans, as banks turn away from using such factors as race, socio-economic background, postal code and the like to assess fit. And with more data, banks can reduce their risk, thus providing more loans.
  • Individuals will be able to manage their health better and create less of a burden on the system.
  • Government will have to do less monitoring and regulation e.g. in traffic. and can cut down on bureaucracy in general
  • Algorithms can mean less pollution, less congestion, less economic waste

CONS

  • We cannot see and fully understand the implications of, the algorithms programmed into everyday actions and decisions?
  • Most algorithms today are written to optimize efficiency and profitability without much thought about the possible societal impacts.
  • It might be too convenient for people to follow the advice of an algorithm (or, too difficult to go beyond), turning users into zombies giving those who have control of the algorithms an unfair position of power
  • We will see more ‘differential pricing’ – giving the consumer a price he is willing to pay (based on data about him) which helps the company, not the consumer
  • The fact the internet can, through algorithms, be used to almost read our minds means we risk political and economic manipulation – including lack of privacy and self-determination – of larger population groups
  • Algorithms can kill local intelligence, local skills, minority languages and local entrepreneurship because most of the available resources will be drained out by the global competitors.
  • Today algorithms is mainly written by humans. In the future they will likely be evolved by intelligent/learning machines …. Humans risk losing their agency in the world.
  • All data contain biases. Historic data, current data and future data are full of bias. The result could be the institutionalization of biased and damaging decisions with the excuse of, ‘The computer made the decision, so we have to accept it.’
  • The overall effect will be positive for some individuals. It will be negative for the poor and the uneducated. As a result, the digital divide and wealth disparity will grow. It will be a net negative for society.
  • With no minimal guaranteed living wages and free education, the brightest will use online resources to rapidly surpass average individuals and the wealthiest will use their economic power to gain more political advantages.

Read the whole study here

And if you want more, I can highly recommend the book Economic Singularity by Calum Chace

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