Grasping a changing world, understanding algorithms. Urrichio at #think2013
William Urrichio is telling us about algorithms and how they areal pervasive. Everything from stock market predictions to predictive policing and even medical diagnosis has become dependent on algorithms. Further, algorithms help recommend choice and are beginning to define cultural context. Big data and computers have become critical to the way we live out lives.
It seems there are algorithms that are useful but also many that are just simply there. Noise. Privacy violation is very much a fear. Also self generating self optimising algorithms mean a loss of control. Urrichio says “they are running away on their own”. This is scary too.
Taking the reference point of Modernism, where precision and stability rule, Urrichio suggests we are now in an algorithmic era in which everything us constantly in flux. To me, that explains a lot of what’s going on around us. We have way too many reference points, too much information and all of it is changing constantly. So how do we then make sense of our lives? How do we take decisions? We need to hold a somewhat stable world view, vision if we need to make choices that we deem are right for us. As an urban planner, I see algorithm based information as immensely powerful in predicting many things that can help us plan and manage cities. But we would have to still know our objectives. What do we want our cities to be? How do we want to live now? How do we want to shape our living environment in the future?
Urrichio is challenging our ability to change how we think. Are we going to be able to keep up with this change? Accept that there is a shifting sort of truth out there, contested perhaps but informative nevertheless he emphasises transparency and awareness as crucial in making sense of this, in being able to move forward!
The contemporary world is changing rapidly and we need to be able to adapt. Algorithms canned friends or foes depending on how well we can understand and use them, how flexible we can be. It’s fascinating for me to imagine a new way to work. A world in which we need to invest time to understand where data is coming from, what it’s nuances are. And then think about how to leverage this algorithm based data to improve life on Earth.
Urrichio ends with an emphasis on humanistic thinking and the need to combine knowledge, a theme I see academics return to again and again. I hope we see that change soon.