/ August 25, 2011

Algorithms: The New “Terminator”?

Our friends at Rocket Matter brought our attention to an interesting story about the future of algorithms. Ah yes, the algorithm.  Defined by Merriam-Webster quite simply as “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem…in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation”, algorithms are purportedly the very phenomenon that may lead to that often repeated Sci-Fi movie scene when humans realize they are no longer in control of their surroundings. The BBC reported this week that algorithms have taken over a tremendous amount of work that humans used to do on their own, and we don’t even know it. From search engines of all kinds (yes, even Fastcase uses algorithms) to social networking capabilities, stock market transactions to daily household chores, algorithms determine a great deal of our day to day functionality.

photo credit to Bsivad

Seeing as the average person has probably never given algorithms a second thought, experts in the field are concerned that this lack of awareness can and already has led to some problems. While many speculate over the possibilities of more major catastrophes, stock market crashes, hackers obtaining access to personal data, etc., perhaps even more disturbing is the shift in human reliance.

Psychologists have launched studies showing that our brains have stopped remembering things because they know we can get access to the information easily elsewhere. Whether it’s a quick definition that you Google (guilty, see definition above), or directions to dinner, humans are relying less on their own knowledge and more on the artificial knowledge handed to them. It seems unlikely that “Revenge of the Algorithms” will hit theaters anytime soon – although they could easily predict box office success – but it’s an interesting thought.

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