Home > Uncategorized > Book Review: Automate This – WSJ.com

Book Review: Automate This – WSJ.com

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

On the whole, though, Mr. Steiner believes that we need to accept our algorithmic overlords. Accept them we might—but first we should vigorously, and transparently, debate the rules they are imposing. Following several high-profile scandals involving algorithmic trading, regulators in Hong Kong have recently proposed that all such algorithms be audited and tested every year. Similar calls have been made with regard to independent audits of Google’s search algorithms—if only to avoid the impression that the company might be favoring its own services in its search results.

Consider predictive policing—an area that Mr. Steiner doesn’t discuss but one that captures just how tricky the politics of algorithms could get. Police departments across America are rapidly embracing software that, by drawing on past crime data, suggests where and when crimes might happen next. It all sounds fine in theory—but will it open the door to even more racial profiling? Police could blame their algorithms and say: “My algorithm told me to arrest this man!” Some legal scholars already seriously entertain this possibility. Private companies, moreover, might eventually step in with proprietary algorithms. Do we want our legal system to run on opaque code?

While “Automate This” hints at some of these thorny issues, it says very little about the ways to resolve them. The real question isn’t whether to live with algorithms—the Sumerians got that much right—but how to live with them. As Vonnegut understood over a half-century ago, an uncritical embrace of automation, for all the efficiency that it offers, is just a prelude to dystopia.

via Book Review: Automate This – WSJ.com.

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