The world of today is more digitized than ever before. From paying with a smartwatch to watching movies whenever and wherever you want, the opportunities of digitalization are countless and are making our lives easier in many ways. However, the smart algorithms behind such applications are losing their innocent image as more is becoming known about how algorithms promote filter bubbles, fake news and screen addiction. A countermovement that raises awareness about privacy and security is growing, and data ethics seems to increase in importance. In this blogpost, I will dive into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms while highlighting the importance of taking responsibility in a world full of big data.
Algorithms in our daily lives
Much of what we do in our daily lives is determined or influenced by algorithms, but what is this exactly? In the basics: a set of mathematical instructions that can be used to make predictions based on a large amount of data (Gallaugher, 2018). Think about Netflix and how you decide what you want to watch. You might think that it was fully your own choice but in the majority of the cases, Netflix recommends films or movies that result from decisions made by algorithms.
Algorithms and AI have been around for quite some time, but have grown significantly in the last decade due to the increased processing power of computers in combination with the amount of available data. Through the collection of personal data, algorithms are capable of personalizing the messages and advertisements people see on for instance, Facebook and YouTube. This raises questions on ethics, considering that this enormous power of algorithms can become dangerous as it results in filter bubbles and the prominent display of fake news.
Most companies that are working with algorithms and AI nowadays employ people who take care of data ethics. The methods which they use include two-way transparency and informed consent, which gives customers a clearer idea about how and why their data is used, as well as the opportunity to opt out any use of their date which they are not comfortable with (Gallaugher, 2018). While the use of certain methods is an important first step to satisfy the growing demand for data ethics, we as citizens can also contribute by taking responsibility ourselves. Through a development of knowledge on algorithms and AI, we get a better understanding of the related opportunities and dangers, and become more aware of the technological impact on our daily lives. Most importantly, we will formulate insights which can contribute to the ongoing debate about digitalization, privacy and ethics. Completing the free National AI-Cursus would therefore be highly valuable and of great importance. Furthermore, students who would like to dive deeper into the social and ethical consequences of new technological developments could even consider doing a Master in this field. The Erasmus University of Rotterdam now offers a Master’s degree in Digitalisation, Surveillance & Society in which such important matters will be discussed.
By taking big data responsibility and educating ourselves on its growing impact on our daily lives, we will be able to develop the required knowledge to tackle the important issues regarding digitalization, ethics, and privacy. Eventually, we will then become able to better inform others and to regulate the technological future of tomorrow.
Author: Itske van den Braak
Editor: Gwendolyne Cheung
Illustrator: Roos de Waard
Gallaugher, J. (2018). Information Systems: A manager’s guide to harnessing technology. Flatword Knowledge.