7 things we’ve learned about computer algorithms

Aaron Smith at Pew Research Center: “Algorithms are all around us, using massive stores of data and complex analytics to make decisions with often significant impacts on humans – from choosing the content people see on social media to judging whether a person is a good credit risk or job candidate. Pew Research Center released several reports in 2018 that explored the role and meaning of algorithms in people’s lives today. Here are some of the key themes that emerged from that research.

  1. Algorithmically generated content platforms play a prominent role in Americans’ information diets. Sizable shares of U.S. adults now get news on sites like Facebook or YouTube that use algorithms to curate the content they show to their users. A study by the Center found that 81% of YouTube users say they at least occasionally watch the videos suggested by the platform’s recommendation algorithm, and that these recommendations encourage users to watch progressively longer content as they click through the videos suggested by the site.
  2. The inner workings of even the most common algorithms can be confusing to users. Facebook is among the most popular social media platforms, but roughly half of Facebook users – including six-in-ten users ages 50 and older – say they do not understand how the site’s algorithmically generated news feed selects which posts to show them. And around three-quarters of Facebook users are not aware that the site automatically estimates their interests and preferences based on their online behaviors in order to deliver them targeted advertisements and other content.
  3. The public is wary of computer algorithms being used to make decisions with real-world consequences. The public expresses widespread concern about companies and other institutions using computer algorithms in situations with potential impacts on people’s lives. More than half (56%) of U.S. adults think it is unacceptable to use automated criminal risk scores when evaluating people who are up for parole. And 68% think it is unacceptable for companies to collect large quantities of data about individuals for the purposes of offering them deals or other financial incentives. When asked to elaborate about their worries, many feel that these programs violate people’s privacy, are unfair, or simply will not work as well as decisions made by humans….(More)”.