Living in the Algorithmic Society

Given today's proliferation of the latest technologies into our daily lives, it would be no exaggeration to say that a revolution occurred in the digital ecosystem. This revolution does not concern the technologies per se, but also our morality, identity, and meaning in our lives.

While this revolution offers various new opportunities for creating new jobs, some caution needs to be taken about our new algorithmic society. While today's technologies can create big data sets regarding almost every aspect of our lives, it also makes the meaning vanish out of our lives. As long as we may continue to be sedated by the ease offered by the new technologies, it should be no surprise that this algorithmic society will reduce human-beings to data bundles.

Given the fact that this meaning is based on our consciousness, it cannot be encoded through means of data. In a similar vein, virtues such as truth, beauty, and goodness are immune to a reasonable quantification. Moreover, the essential aspects of human relationships such as loyalty, trust, and judgment cannot also be quantified in any way. In this new era, we may be called by our first names given the algorithmic skills of the computers on the helpline, yet that does not mean that these technologies are conceptualizing us as a bundle of our fears, prejudices, and hopes as we are merely recognized as a bundle of data.

Although we are being immersed in several applications and programs of the algorithmic society, we rarely recognize them as most of them are controlling our lives under the disguise of easing it. To give a specific example, while the GPS may provide great ease regarding navigating our way, it deprives the younger generation of the skills of reading a map which may eventually lead to some cognitive decline. It equally applies to learning how to drive a car or how to cook as long as we rely on passwords and user IDs for remembering essential things. We are being seduced by software.

Another drawback of living in an algorithmic society is that data may disappear quickly due to the unreliability of the technologies used. To give a specific example, even the tech giant Google suggests the printing of any special images as they may not be retrieved a few years later. That means that data to structure our lives is evanescent. While a self-driving car may look magical as long as its operating system works fine, the same temporality applies to 3D printed food that may look delicious as long as the power does not go out.

In an algorithmic society, there also exists an algorithmic organization which is built on the premise of more effective and efficient work routines given the programming skills in advance. It should be kept in mind that as Drucker suggested, efficiency does not equate to effectiveness. While the former one refers to doing things well, the latter one implies doing the right things. For effectiveness to occur, there need to be important skills such as courage, and vision which cannot be programmed at all. The best software can not overcome the unexpected in our daily lives in the world. As a computerized helpline may not anticipate our specific problems, we may be circulating in anticipation of an urgent response. There is no more place for choice when it comes to being efficient.

Unsurprisingly, there is little room for privacy in our algorithmic society as most of our habits can be analyzed and dissected. Today’s technologies go beyond Amazon’s or Google’s personalized suggestions regarding what to read or eat. They are now able to offer more personalized solutions at a much more sophisticated level. While new television sets can make a record of our conversations to be transferred right away, fibre optic cables located underground can discover movements without individuals being aware of it.

Given these capabilities of new technologies, others will be in a position to know us better than ourselves which may result in a world being controlled by a few controllers. It is the biggest challenge for those who claim the emergence of a singularity as computers start to think for themselves.

So, what should be our stance given these aspects of new technologies? While we should certainly continue to enjoy the ease offered by these new technologies and explore their new potential, we should also be cautious not to become a slave to these technologies. It can only happen by remembering our special gift of being a human being which cannot be reduced to data. Becoming the masters of our creations rather than their puppets should be our choice.

The original Data Driven Investor article contributed by Ayse Kok is here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.