The Algorithms We Want

I recently finished reading Hannah Fry’s book Hello World: How to Be Human In the Age of the Machine. It’s a clear, non-technical, myth deflating look at AI and the digital, similar to Tom Chatfield’s book How to Thrive in the Digital Age (2012) and the radio show The Digital Human, both of which I’ve extolled the virtues of.

It’s Fry’s contention ‘the hype over AI is a distraction’ (p. 13). This hype diverts our focus from the present moment and the algorithms we’re using and subject to now. Fry focuses on the present application of AI in different fields, dedicating chapters to Justice, Medicine, Cars, Crime and Art. It’s a nuanced look, with Fry noting benefits and drawbacks of the application of algorithms in each of these areas.

As part of her conclusion, Fry posits that algorithms should be built ‘to be contestable from the ground up […] to support humans’ (p. 201); and she believes (using breast cancer screening as an example) the goal is for algorithm and human to ‘work together in partnership, exploiting each other’s strength and embracing each other’s flaws’ (p. 202).

These conclusions resonated with me, not only because the former point returns a level of agency to the lay person in a field which can feel exclusively for those who wholly understand AI (rather ‘a revolution in computational statistics than a revolution in intelligence’ [p. 12]); but I feel I’ve had some experience of this working ‘together in partnership’ when I’ve performed with A.L.Ex as part of the improv group Improbotics, who I have a rehearsal with tonight and, if I’m excused a quick plug, a show with on Monday at DDG in Brixton.

 

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