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Living in the Algorithmic Society

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Given today’s proliferation of latest technologies into our daily lives, it would be no exaggeration to say that a revolution occurred in the digital ecosystem. This revolution does not concern the technologies per se, but also our morality, identity and meaning in our lives.

While this revolution offers various new opportunities for creating new jobs, some caution needs to be taken about our new algorithmic society. While today’s technologies can create big data sets regarding almost every aspect of our lives it also makes the meaning vanish out of our lives. As long as we may continue to be sedated by the ease offered by the new technologies, it should be no surprise that this algorithmic society will reduce human-beings to data bundles.

Given the fact that this meaning is based on our consciousness, it cannot be encoded through means of data. In a similar vein, virtues such as truth, beauty and goodness are immune to a reasonable quantification. Moreover, essential aspects of human relationships such as loyalty, trust and judgement cannot also be quantified in any way. In this new era, we may be called by our first names given the algorithmic skills of the computers on the help line, yet that does not mean that we are being conceptualized by these technologies as a bundle of our fears, prejudices and hopes as we are merely recognized as a bundle of data.

Although we are being immersed in several applications and programs of the algorithmic society, we rarely recognize them as most of them are controlling our lives under the disguise of easing it. To give a specific example, while the GPS may provide great ease in terms of navigating our way, it deprives the younger generation of the skills of reading a map which may eventually lead to some cognitive decline. This equally applies to learning how to drive a car or how to cook as long as we rely on passwords and user IDs for remembering essential things. We are being seduced by softwares.

Another drawback of living in an algorithmic society is that data may disappear quickly due to the unreliability of the technologies used. To give a specific example, even the tech giant Google suggests the printing of any special images as they may not be retrieved a few years later. That means that data to structure our lives is evanescent. While a self-driving car may look magical as long as its operating system works fine, the same temporality applies to 3D printed food that may look delicious as long as the power does not go out.

In an algorithmic society, there also exists an algorithmic organization which is built on the premise of more effective and efficient work routines given the programming skills in advance. Yet, it should be kept in mind that as Drucker suggested, efficiency does not equal to effectiveness. While the former one refers to doing things well, the latter one implies doing the right things. In order for effectiveness to occur, there need to be important skills such as courage, judgement and vision which cannot be programmed at all. The unexpected in our daily lives cannot be overcome by the best software in the world. As our specific problems may not be anticipated by a computerized help line, we may be circulating around in anticipation of an urgent response. There is no more place for choice when it comes to being efficient.

Unsurprisingly, there is little room for privacy in our algorithmic society as most of our habits can be analyzed and dissected. Today’s technologies go beyond Amazon’s or Google’s personalized suggestions regarding what to read or eat. They are now able to offer more personalized solutions at a much more sophisticated level. While new television sets can make a record of our conversations to be transferred right away, fibre optic cables located underground can discover movements without individuals being aware of it.

Given these capabilities of new technologies, others will be in a position to know us better than ourselves which may result in a world being controlled by a few controllers. This is the biggest challenge for those who claim the emergence of a singularity as computers start to think for themselves.

So, what should be our stance given these aspects of new technologies? While we should certainly continue to enjoy the ease offered by these new technologies and explore their new potential, we should also be cautious not to become a slave of these technologies. This can only happen by remembering our special gift of being a human-being which cannot be reduced to data. Becoming the masters of our creations rather than their puppets should be our choice.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bogazici University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including IEEE Internet of Things Journal, Journal of Network & Computer Applications (Elsevier), Journal of Information Hiding and Multimedia Signal Processing...etc. She has also played the role of the guest editor of several international journals of IEEE, Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Moreover, she is one of the organizing chairs of several international conferences and member of technical committees of several international conferences. In addition, she is an active reviewer of many international journals as well as research foundations of Switzerland, USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley and works for Google in Mountain View.

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