Week 8 Summary – How Algorithms Shape Our Lives

The origins of the word alogrithm – click for a great BBC clip

The TEDx presentation by Kevin Slavin in this week’s lifestream, argues that we “need to rethink a little bit about the role of contemporary math… its transition from being something we extract and derive from the world to something that actually starts to shape it – the world around us and the world inside us.” This has congruence with the themes being explored in the core reading that posits in recent years algorithms have become “increasingly involved in the arranging, cataloguing and ranking of people, places and knowledge… They are becoming increasingly ubiquitous actors in the global economy, as well as our social and material worlds.” (Knox, 2015).  In essence, algorithms are now major actors in contemporary human society and culture.

On personal reflection it is evident that algorithms are highly influential in my own life, and are certainly shaping my every day thoughts and actions. I need only consider my Netflix recommendations to see tangible evidence of how an algorithm can shape day-to-day decision making. This was surmised in both news articles in the lifestream, each which explored the incredible power of major organisations such as Amazon and the impact they have had, and continue to have, on contemporary culture. As the Observer article recognises, this provides these companies with tremendous power, and raises the question of algorithmic objectivity. Are automated processes completely free of biases, or are they, as many would suggest enmeshed with corporate or political biases?

Knox, J. (2015) Algorithmic Cultures. Excerpt from Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. M. A. Peters (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_124-1

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