Algorithms: How Do Algorithms Affect Our Lives

If I had to explain algorithms to a young child, I would say that it is a magic process that calculates what you are thinking and provides the information you want before you even say it. When you use the internet, it makes notes of what you have done through it, everything, and gets to know your habits. Later, it will show thing first that is more related to your interests. It is like your personal secretary waiting inside your computer and working 24/7, except you cannot see them. when algorithms get along with you for some time, they will know more about you and provide more convenient service.

When Wilson gives an example of what Hal Varian has experienced on Google Now (2016), I can’t help thinking of my similar experiences. I have not experienced such automatic message that shocked me about its intelligence, but I do realize how part of our life is changed on internet. Whenever I do shopping online, I will find how exactly they record what products I have choose and like the last time or before. Not only Amazon can do this, but almost every shopping website will record my activities there. Sometimes I even do not need to log in to my account and somehow they know it is me. The recommended commodities do not only limit to things that are related to what I have bought, but are related to all the things that I have looked through. Sometimes some of the things they recommend do attract my attention, and I am eager to click to see what it looks like. However, most of the time I find they recommend too many same type of things that I have bought or have little interest in. This bothers me because I want to see a more various type of things when I shop and do not want to repeat what I have looked through before.

The same things happen when I use players to watch TV series or movies. The homepage of the player always recommend things based on my watching and searching records if I have not searched anything. In fact, I like the algorithms in the player. For when I open the player, I always want to relax and kill my time. Sometimes I do not know what movie they have that might be fit for my appetite, then the recommending thing seems perfect for saving time to select and choose.

The No. 7 scene that Crawford stresses about the importance of agonism of my own experiences (2016). The Chinese search engine Baidu (similar to Google) is an example of failing to be agonistic and does not give their users much choices. Any sensitive opinion posted on Baidu that does not conform with the mainstream idea will be deleted. The engine will search for the sensitive words and clear the page. The next time when you search for a hot but sensitive topic, you enter the page and will find the page has gone or have some be blocked. The lack of counterposed perspectives online forged a fake scene of peace and harmony. The commercial interest linked to the company even makes things worse. When someone searches for where to cure certain disease on Baidu, the results that displayed on the top were not the best and appropriate hospitals, but the hospitals that give money to Baidu company and ask Baidu to recommend their hospitals on the top.

Whenever I think about the way algorithms work are decided by big companies without any discussion with the public, I feel they have so much power that they are like espionage organization in ancient China. Our way of thinking and knowing the world may be deeply affect by them if alternative choices and agonistic pluralism were not propelled online.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Yi,
    When you mentioned your different feelings of algorithms on the Internet and the TV, I strongly agree with you. It happens when I use Weibo and Taobao. When I use Weibo, we can enter the “popular trend” page and see what is the most popular weibos and what is recommendation of Weibo for us to read. It is a good way for me to kill my time because sometimes my home page’s content is too narrowed that I find nothing to read. However, if it happens on Taobao, it is a different story. I believe Taobao is wasting my time by recommending how many things I “should” buy. Therefore, I concluded in my own words that algorithms are able to produce different effects for the audience on different medium because every medium has different nature which due to different responses from the audience.

    Like

  2. I’m not in love with your explanation of an algorithm, because it’s really not magic at all. The thing to really understand about them is that people create algorithms, and they outline a series of steps that must be followed. Unlike a human being, an algorithm cannot decide that the steps are inappropriate in a certain case and make a change.

    Your example for Crawford’s scene 7 makes me feel that Baidu is all about greed and profit. It doesn’t try to provide the best service for its users.

    Like

  3. I liked your comment on Zuo’s post.

    Like

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