IT IS extremely difficult to go a day without interacting with an algorithm. They help direct the whole of our online experience, recommending might know about buy, read, watch and pay attention to. Some 74 per cent of adults in the US use Facebook at least one time a day – and what they see is decided totally by an algorithm. Offline, they are increasingly used to greatly help us make tricky decisions, screening job applications, moderating test results and even directing which crimes police investigators concentrate on.
As they have become ubiquitous, algorithms have made a mixture of hype and concern. On the one hand, we are regularly told that they can be opaque and biased. On the other, we hear they can be incredibly handy, pulling off tasks that humans can struggle with, from optimising complex trade logistics to spotting the initial signs of disease in medical scans.
So what’s the reality about algorithms? It can help to understand that the term can mean quite various things (see “What’s an algorithm?“). In addition, it helps to become familiar with some of the algorithms that form our lives – so that’s what we’ll do over the next few pages.
1 SOCIAL MEDIA
Facebook’s news feed
Few algorithms wield as much power as those beneath the bonnet of Facebook. The social media giant’s algorithms control which updates its 2.8 billion monthly users see that friends and what headlines they read on their news feed.
When we talk about the “Facebook algorithm”, we’e actually discussing dozens of bits of software that are based on a variety of technologies and so are constantly being tweaked. This software analyses …