Who decides which information and knowledge people have access to?
- People get information and news from feeds, search engines and recommendation systems which heavily rely on algorithmic personalization.
- Publishers and media companies produce content based on expected and past performance within the algorithmic distribution system.
- Journalists, opinion leaders and book authors produce and share information that has been gathered under the influence of algorithms.
- All this happens within an environment of self-reinforcing feedback loops that particularly rewards sensationalism, outrage, hatred and other negative emotions. And many people are unable to stop exposing themselves to these negative emotions on a near-constant basis, as they cleverly trigger the brain’s primal, primitive urges.
Who decides which products and services people buy?
- People get information about products from algorithmic product recommendation systems and make purchases based on that information.
- People hear from their online contacts about products and services, filtered through the algorithmic systems mentioned above.
- People see algorithmically targeted ads for products and services.
Who decides what financial markets do?
- A lot of the trading on financial markets is being performed by automated trading systems.
- All human actors who are active on the financial markets are influenced by the algorithms mentioned above.
Who decides which products and services are being produced?
- Companies use algorithms to sift through data and social media sentiment to figure out future demand.
- Companies create products and services based on expected advertisement/word of mouth performance within algorithmic distribution systems.
- Companies create products and services based on the response of investors and shareholders, whose perspective and decisions are impacted by everything above. Facebook, Google and other tech giants have created their nowadays controversial products because they have been rewarded for it by the markets, which in turn are partly influenced by algorithms.
Who decides who people have a romantic relationship with?
- Tinder and other dating apps present people seeking love with an algorithmic choice of potential mating partners.
Who decides what music people listen to and what movies/shows they watch, as well as what music, movies and shows are being produced?
- Music streaming services and online video services offer algorithmic playlists and recommendation engines.
- Production of music and shows is data-driven and happens either explicit (like how Netflix decides about future shows), or implicit by platforms rewarding those producers the most who create content that meets the algorithm’s criteria (e.g. optimization for outrage and sensationalism at YouTube).
Who decides how any kind of organization in the world acts within this environment?
Increasingly, the algorithms:
- Any organization is made up of people, and all people who are connected to the internet are subject to and influenced by all of the above.
- Organizations themselves increasing rely on algorithms for decision making.
Who decides what politicians do and how they think?
- Politicians are humans, and thus they are subject to and influenced by all of the above.
Looking at this picture, wouldn’t it be accurate to conclude that in fact, artificial intelligence has already taken over the world? Even though we are only dealing with a variety of independent systems featuring artificial narrow intelligence (= systems that are only good at the specific task that they have been programmed for and that cannot just cross over into a completely different discipline) embedded into and connected through highly complex human systems, in 2018 billions of humans make every day small and big decisions based on input, information and impulses provided by algorithms.
While pundits are debating whether expected artificial general intelligence (= the intelligence of a machine that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can) is a threat or chance, when it will become reality and what shape it will take, maybe the moment at which humans have handed over their individual and collective minds into the hands of machines, has already been passed. One thing is for sure: There is no plug that can be pulled by any human being that would instantly make all these narrow AIs stop at once, and there is no decision that anyone makes which is not at least indirectly impacted by an algorithm.
Sign up for the meshedsociety weekly email, loaded with great things to read about the digital world. Sent to more than 500 verified subscribers (February 2018).