The good news is that we can now mine mind-boggling quantities of data for valuable information about almost anything and anybody.
Dr. Panos Parpas, of Imperial College London, says that “algorithms, explained simply, follow a series of instructions to solve a problem. It’s a bit like how a recipe helps you to bake a cake.” Seems innocent enough, but what if the recipe, i.e., the algorithm is faulty, or worse, intrusive?
To be clear, there’s no doubt that big data mining has amazing potential for good, but there is a cautionary tale as well.
Sophisticated algorithms now illuminate and predict hidden patterns, correlations, trends, preferences and other useful, if not vital, information. Business, personal, societal, medical and scientific intelligence can be predicted, enhanced, modified, and discovered based on such analysis.
More ominously, perhaps, algorithms are busy analyzing big data for nearly every aspect of our society and churning out predictive analysis for all manner of personal, public, government and corporate behavior. It’s here that things get a bit tricky.
For instance, your next job, or your existing one might be largely dependent on a computer algorithm that compares you to a database of other like individuals, contemporaneously and historically. Your personal history, your socio-economic status, your habits and other collected data have the potential to disadvantage you or groups of individuals, say for policing, insurance, healthcare, purchasing, etc.
In other words, the potential for baked in discrimination or bias — even if unintended – raises critical moral and legal issues today and as we progress down the digital highway.
In this earlier TED talk, Kevin Slavin illustrates how modern algorithms determine stock prices, espionage tactics, even the movies you watch. But, he asks: If we depend on complex algorithms to manage our daily decisions — when do we start to lose control? He’s a playful, thought-provoking speaker.
Kevin Slavin: How Algorithms Shape Our World