Algorithms In Daily Life

Some people may have not even heard of the word ‘algorithm’ before. But it is there in our everyday life, supporting us, simplifying our chores, in a way more than most of us can imagine. Computers, internet, social network, televisions, microwave ovens, washing machines, elevator, transports, and even, electric fan – just to name a few.

Let’s put aside how does ‘algorithm’ functions in an electric fan, shall we, and focus on how we have rely too much on them, unconsciously, it shapes our life? Not in simple way, I mind you.

Social Network

Now, click on your Facebook tab (I’m pretty sure you have it now somewhere at the top there, don’t lie to me) and look at friends listed on your main chat list. Linger. Next, go to your profile or timeline. Look at friends listed on your main panel and your friend list which have very limited view. Look. Then, click ‘Home’ and see who’s posts are listed in your News Feed. Ponder.

These information are stored in Facebook database. How does Facebok selects who are our top friends, who’s posts should appear most in our News Feed and who are our top friends who should feature in our friend list when people view our profile / timeline? The answer is ALGORITHM.

Algorithms are designed to make our online experience effective. By applying some search optimization algorithm, the web would be able to detect what you want to see, search for it and serve it to you. This happens in a very short time we don’t realize what’s happening and mostly, because most humans won’t be able to grasp the reality of what’s really happening – including me.
(WARNING: This explanation is overly simplified. Don’t use this to answer your take-home quiz.)

Algorithm 1 : Human 0

As human knowledge and computers evolve, algorithms are designed more intricately to cater to more sophisticated massive amount of online information and networks. They are designed to mimick real world. Thus, Particle Swarm Optimization, Ant Colony Optimzation, Neural Networks, Genetic Algorithms, and so forth, were produced and still under improvements. These methods are even combined with each other to compliment each other’s features. Interestingly, these types of algorithms are able to SELF-LEARN, provided there are ample conditions like enough data storage, sufficient memory alocation etc. This means that the algorithm is able to modify itself as it weaves the information together into its memory, just like living organisms learn to better their lives from experience.

Since this kind of knowledge is reserved to computer geeks and nerdy mathematicians (and, perhaps, serious physicists) the majority of humankind won’t be able to understand this ‘unseen’ world, let alone cope with it. So, there is a possibility that the algorithms ‘learn too much’ until we can no longer understand them. The truth is, it HAS ALREADY happened – as brilliantly described by Kevin Slavin in TEDTalks.

Algorithm 2 : Human 0

Now, let’s get back to Facebook. Those people featured on your top friends, news feed and chat list are recognized as Top Friends by Facebook’s algorithm, based on your past clicks, views, comments, shares, ‘likes’ etc. You cannot blame the algorithm because you were the one holding the mouse and typing on the keyboard. But the algorithm is BUILDING OUR PERCEPTIONS on whom should be our friends, what should we like, who should we connect with and build suggestions to post on the righthand pane. It INFLUENCES our decisions. It is SHAPING our online network and, considering the amount of time most people spend in front of web browser nowadays, our world. That includes our buying decision, our knowledge, our university choice, our career path, and most probably, our life partner! *Sherlock Holmes film opening music playing in the background*

Algorithm 3 : Human 0

“But it’s making our life convenient.”

“But it’s taking control of our world.”

“But it has improved our communication effectively.”

“But it has become uncontrollable.”

“Oh don’t worry! There are some best people in the business who control these things.”

“Worst case scenario?”

Eh… I-Robot, perhaps..?