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From Minds to Algorithms

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Predictability makes us confident. Predictability is what makes friends and family so trustworthy. We can guarantee with 100% certainty that they’ll be there when we need them.

Internet algorithms deliver the same predictability. Pandora, Amazon, even iMessage, can predetermine what we want to listen to, buy, and say next. Google already serves as a second brain, an external hard drive of memories and immediate answers.

But is automation what we really want? By outsourcing our decision-making, we’re “subtracting from your autonomy.” Algorithms pose a threat to human discovery and human serendipity. Sometimes we don’t know what we like until someone else shows us, we see/hear it 10x times thanks to pop radio, or we stumble upon it accidentally. There’s a special feeling you get when you discover something on your own.

I write about algorithms a lot. Why do we exist If technology and big data tell us what to do next? Predictability may save you time, for instance, in replying to a friend’s text. But if your friend is also using “predictive text” then machines are just talking to machines. The “Internet of Things” replaces humanness. Algorithms deserve our attention because they pose a threat to our free will.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of Discvr.blog and four books.