A Nerd’s World

We’re living in an interactive era where the media and communications industries are forever advancing.

The online world and interactive era are becoming an influential hunk of contemporary society and altering functionality.

Networks like Facebook, Instagram and Netflix are global media companies that allow world-wide use in many media industries, including Australia. They comprise state-of-the-art ‘electronic gatekeepers’AKA, algorithms that predict and determine our online lives.

Just what are algorithms?

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But who can understand this? Image Source: Shutterstock, Mciek

‘Algorithms’ are system processes that use big data and predictive analysis to automate and skew certain content to particular audiences (Carah & Louw 2015).

E.g.

Being inter-reliant with other social media, Facebook’s algorithms use variables like your friends, likes, comments and shares to ‘suggest’ content on platforms like Instagram (Carah & Louw 2015).

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Facebook                                                                               Instagram

They’ve been affecting our daily lives for many years – from making a can of Coca Cola to solving a Rubik’s cube.

Fast forward to now, algorithms, like the Internet, are infiltrating every aspect of society and becoming their own discourse, allowing a computerised society to exist.

With the increasing involvement and government of algorithmic software in our lives, media production and consumption through shaping our culture, taste in movies and online content (Just & Latzer 2017), shouldn’t we ask, what are the implications of such massive developments?

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Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin writing an algorithm on Mark Zuckerberg’s window in The Social Network. Image Source: Flikr, UrbanWire.

Facebook’s News Feed displays what users primarily see by tailoring the content to their preferences. (Carah & Louw 2015). This is controlled by algorithms using thousands of factors to filter the 1500+ stories a user could see to about 300 of the ‘most relevant’.

The content shown reflects what is more valuable to a particular user than otherwise would be. Similarly, Facebook-owned Instagram recently changed its feed from chronological order to an algorithm-determining order.

Once again, good content will be waiting for users to see and engage with rather than being missed, simply because a user wasn’t logged in at the right time.

Imagine if there were no ranking algorithms on Google Search, with results displaying in an uncategorised list… The data would be almost meaningless as the best content would be scattered amongst barely-relevant information.

“The Google algorithm was a significant development… I’ve had thank-you emails from people whose lives have been saved by information on a medical website or who have found the love of their life on a dating website.”

~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

In professional environments, algorithms can help employers seek the best employees by removing conscious and unconscious bias. This allows for a truly objective measurement of a candidate’s skill set based on the words they have used in their cover letter or resume.

Already, computer algorithms help police departments to identify suspects faces on CCTV security cameras.

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Image of Facebook’s DeepFace facial recognition algorithmic software. Image Source: The Verge, Russell Brandom

There’s no doubt this algorithmic development will continue to advance our society in many ways; like through ‘smart cities‘ – which will connect drivers with traffic lights to improve road flow, automatically alert and divert traffic after an accident and gather data about where resources could be spent to improve neighbourhoods.

Humanity should always seek to improve themselves so that we become safer, more knowledgeable, and for the sake of seeing our potential come to fruition.

By making society faster, more efficient, and providing instant choice will allow us less time wasting and more time doing the things we love or need, whether that be working or enjoying life.

But, can a healthy society really exist by being just another sheep in the herd?

Culture evolves and lives through conflicts of ideas, socially transmitted beliefs, customs, attitudes and disruptions.

Being given skewed content and having a lack of new ideas can also narrow our perspectives.

YouTube Clip: Digital Trends 2017

Hallinan and Striphas (2016) maintain what constitutes culture now, in part, constituted independence of human beings. In addition, they contend greater filtering in recommendations for customer satisfaction through algorithms only produces further refinement.

“[Algorithms create] a closed commercial loop in which culture conforms to, more than it confronts its user.”

~ Blake Hallinan & Ted Striphas ~

The mass media has always produced ‘social realities’; the difference now is that automated algorithmic selection is personalising reality construction, resulting in “further individualisation in societies” (Just & Latzer 2017, p. 247).

The internet is deciding for you what it thinks you want to see, whether it is through Google, Netflix or The New York Times website, an algorithm is personalising it, which has the potential of limiting “the unexpected encounters that spark innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas” (Pariser in Albanese 2011 p. 22).

“In the personalised world, Web users are increasingly fed the news and information that fits with their Internet profile.”

~ Pariser (cited in Albanese 2011. p. 22) ~

But, what muddies the water is the language being utilised to select what constitutes culture is so specialised only mathematicians and computer engineers are able to understand it.

The “patent and trade secret laws, non-disclosure agreements non-compete clauses, and other legal instruments” in place that protect the specifics of how algorithms work, makes it almost impossible for social theorists to decipher on what basis algorithms are deciding for us (Hallinan and Striphas 2016, p. 118).

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Are algorithms creating a closed loop in society? Image Source: Mamiverse Team, 2016

With deep-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence continuing to be invented, like cars that can drive for us, can we tell where the future will take us?

In the words of Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Centre for Internet and Society, Jennifer Granick:

“Twenty years from now… [algorithms are] going to decide whether you can get a loan, whether you get a job, whether a car runs over you or drives off a bridge… and you’re not going to know why.”

~ Jennifer Granick ~

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Will we become a monopoly of the online algorithmic world? Image Source: Flikr, Emilie Ogez

 

 

Written and produced by Lacee Froeschl, Rachel Jorgensen and Cameron Brooks as part an assessment for CMN104 Introduction to the Media and Communications Industries at USC.

Offline references:

Albanese, A 2011, ‘Now you see it: What is the internet hiding from you? PW talks with Author Eli Pariser’, Publishers Weekly, vol. 258, no. 24, pp. 22-25.

Carah, N & Louw, E 2015, Media and Society, SAGE Publications Ltd, London.

Hallinan, B & Striphas, T 2016, ‘Recommended for you: The Netflix Prize and the production of algorithmic culture’, New Media & Society, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 117-137.

Just, N & Latzer, M 2017, ‘Governance by algorithms: Reality construction by algorithmic selection on the Internet’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 238-258.

 

 

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