Demystifying the algorithm: who designs your life?

re:publica 2015
Politics & Society


Our digital interactions nowadays are often intermediated by a third party. As more of our world becomes digital these parties are starting to regulate our lives through the use of algorithms that few people understand and that have a mystical quality to them. This talk will use sad, maddening, funny and worrying examples to show that behind the opaque walls of the algorithm you can always find intentional design.


Amazon sits between you and 'Fifty shades of Grey', Whatsapp sits between you and your group of friends organising a party, Netflix sits between you and 'House of Cards' and Facebook sits between you and the next cat meme.

These services are increasingly governing the way we lead our lives. Our possible futures are narrowed down by their bandwidth. We are supposed to just assume that they help us reach the optimal solution to a problem in some mystical algorithmic way. This often hides the fact that behind every algorithm you can find at least one human being who has made intentional and —more often than not— unintentional decisions about its effects.

The lack of diversity in the industry is therefore harmful: our world is now being designed and regulated through the imagination of white male twenty-somethings living in the Valley. These algorithms used to mostly affect our world as seen through the browser. But today they are starting to affect our non-screen-lives too, because all the physical things around us are becoming computers. Algorithmic regulation is absolute. It is hard to negotiate with a computer and they don't handle exceptions well.

Are we ready for a world where your car won't start if you haven't paid your car loan, will cancel your lease contract if it thinks you are driving recklessly and will refuse to take a route that isn't suggested by GoogleMaps? Your environment is starting to make assumptions about you to be able to personalise your experience. How will you feel once your hotel room picks out a song to welcome you on the basis of the colour of your skin?

This talk will use fresh and recognizable examples to show why we need to demand transparency for the algorithms around us if we want to have some agency left in the near future.

Ignite Talk



Donnerstag, 7. Mai 2015 - 10:30 bis 11:00