The algorithms are coming, whether the world is ready for them or not—and whether the algorithms are ready for prime time.
“As machines become more intelligent and dynamic,” writes Hosanagar (Technology and Digital Business/Wharton School of the Univ. of Pennsylvania), “they also become more unpredictable.” Thus arises a built-in conundrum in designing algorithms, the basis of artificial intelligence. Sometimes, notes the author, the algorithms—human constructs, aided by machine learning—“behave in unpredictable, biased, and potentially harmful ways” that speak to the law of unintended consequences. As Hosanagar notes by way of example, the Google self-driving car is based on algorithms that in turn are based on rules not programmed by humans directly but instead “trained on a database of videos of humans driving” that allow it to arrive at “its own driving policy using machine learning.” A self-driving car that learns like a teenager in a driver’s education class may not inspire confidence, but, as Hosanagar observes, the algorithm has driven millions of miles in training, something almost no human has ever done. Machine learning is thus supplanting former expert-systems approaches in many areas. In the main, Hosanagar suggests, algorithms are doing their job of serving humankind, but they can pose dangers, as with the Facebook models that construct echo chambers in the place of conversation pits. Little of the author’s discussion will come as a surprise to anyone who keeps up with tech news. The most useful part of the book is Hosanagar’s “algorithmic bill of rights,” which would give consumers insight into the AI that surrounds them, if not some measure of control. One of the pillars contains the clause that anyone “impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have a right to a description of the data used to train them and details as to how that data was collected.”
Of some interest to students of technology and society, though less compelling than recent books by Jaron Lanier, Edward Tenner, and other critics.