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Question the algorithms

Question the algorithms
Photo by David Werbrouck

It is a canard to think that math can’t fail. All you need to do is look at the way society constructs algorithms – from job and college applications to Facebook feeds to find out that sorting can be wrong and biased.

In the case of the 2016 election, algorithms did more harm than good. Facebook fed the internet silos with fake news. As Cathy O’Neil author of Weapons of Math Destruction puts it in a 99% Invisible podcast: “The internet is a propaganda machine.”

We’ve adopted the factory mindset of mass-sorting, leaving the anxiety of decision-making up to machines. Humans are pieces of data, waiting to be organized by the least valuable candidate or customer.

There are too many of us and not enough time to make individual considerations. But a conversation around algorithmic frailty might do us some good. Making generalizations impedes the magic of discovering an outlier.

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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.