At this point, to say that there are large parts of our on- and offline lives which are steered by computerised algorithms is a statement of the obvious. The products we consume, the means by which we navigate an unfamiliar city, the decision-making processes of governments and big businesses – all of these phenomena and more are increasingly shaped by complex data-driven formulae. From the point of view of the end user, the workings of these algorithms may be invisible, but a series of high-profile scandals (alongside the work of critical researchers such as Virginia Eubanks and Frank Pasquale) have helped bring the potential harms and risks involved in their use into the public consciousness. People are more aware and suspicious of the role of automated decision-making as an aspect of their personal and collective experience, and from our point of view, this can only be a good thing.
As a company whose business is frequently based around the design and use of data analytics products, algorithms are an everyday part of the work we do. At the same time, we’ve always considered it our responsibility to consider and address the potentially perverse consequences of the tools we create, as well as of the deployment of algorithms throughout society more generally. Against the common description of algorithms as a “black box”, we believe that such techniques are often perfectly explicable, both in terms of their technical workings and the social interests which they are designed to serve. Looking through our archive, you’ll find a range of pieces examining and critiquing what we’ve referred to as “computational” or “algorithmic cruelty” – by which we mean, the process through which digital tools, intentionally or otherwise, can be used to accelerate or intensify the everyday violence experienced by particular social groups.
This critical perspective has, we hope, furnished us with a set of principles which guide the way we design and use algorithms and other digital tools. However, since the possibilities afforded by this technology are perpetually evolving, so must the political and moral frameworks through which we understand their effects be constantly updated. Check back here for our latest thinking on these issues, as well as to stay up to date with upcoming prototypes and designs. If you’ve got any questions or ideas to share about the role of algorithms in contemporary society, we’d love to hear them.
Looking for where to start? Here’s a snippet from one of our articles relating to our work with Algorithms:
The Guru Code: Algorithmic Reality Production and Cultural Work
This paper presents three case studies based on projects undertaken by our organisation in the last year that investigated algorithms and software which, either by design or coincidence, have had a notable effect on user’s understandings of both the digital sphere and the offline world, and changed the way they understand and navigate them. This is analysed drawing on socio-psychological and philosophical lenses, considering changes in users’ subjective realities. The paper utilises perspectives opened up by recent thought in the fields of Interdisciplinary Posthumanities, Philosophy of Science, and Object Oriented Ontological and Speculative Realist Philosophy. It identifies and conceptualises a new agent of reality formation…
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