Today, algorithms predict our preferences, interests, and even future actions—recommendation engines, search, and advertising targeting are the most common applications. With data collected on mobile devices and the Internet of Things, these user profiles become algorithmic representations of our identities, which can supplement—or even replace—traditional social research by providing deep insight into people’s personalities. We can also use such data-based representations of ourselves to build intelligent agents who can act in the digital realm on our behalf: the AlgorithmicMe.
These algorithms must make value judgments, decisions on methods, or presets of the program’s parameters—choices made on how to deal with tasks according to social, cultural, or legal rules or personal persuasion—but this raises important questions about the transparency of these algorithms, including our ability (or lack thereof) to change or affect the way an algorithm views us.
Using key examples, Joerg Blumtritt and Majken Sander outline some of these value judgements, discuss their consequences, and present possible solutions, including algorithm audits and standardized specifications, but also more visionary concepts like an AlgorithmicMe, a data ethics oath, and algorithm angels that could raise awareness and guide developers in building their smart things. Joerg and Majken underscore the importance of higher awareness, education, and insight regarding those subjective algorithms that affect our lives. We need to look at how we—data consumers, data analysts, and developers—more or less knowingly produce subjective answers with our choice of methods and parameters, unaware of the bias we impose on a product, a company, and its users.
Majken Sander is a data nerd, business analyst, and solution architect. Majken has worked with IT, management information, analytics, BI, and DW for 20+ years. Armed with strong analytical expertise, she is keen on “data driven” as a business principle, data science, the IoT, and all other things data. Read more majkensander.com
Joerg Blumtritt is the founder and CEO of Datarella, a computational social science startup delivering mobile analytics, self-tracking solutions, and data science consulting. After graduating from university with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg worked as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication. His projects have been funded by an EU commission, the German federal government, and the Max Planck Society. He subsequently ran marketing and research teams for TV networks ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL II and magazine publisher Hubert Burda Media. As European operations officer at Tremor Media, Joerg was in charge of building the New York-based video advertising network’s European enterprises. More recently, he was managing director of MediaCom Germany. Joerg is the founder and chairman of the German Social Media Association (AG Social Media) and the coauthor of the Slow Media Manifesto. Joerg blogs about big data and the future of social research at Beautifuldata.net and about the Quantified Self at Datarella.com.
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