Life begets questions doesn’t it? A lot of them. We are born and everything is a mystery. As babies we take our bottles and they fill us, although we don’t exactly comprehend what milk is. As we grow older we learn from our parents or guardians, milk has calcium, it helps our bones grow, etc. As young children we see movies with adults kissing, and we wonder why the thought gives us goosebumps. Then we move into the somewhat dreaded teenage years and it all makes more sense.
Finally, we reach adulthood and we are expected to understand societal norms, the ins and outs of things, and hopefully, the difference between right and wrong.
But, here in the 21st century, the course of our universe has been completely altered and accelerated. As I have indicated in posts prior, this idea of ß, mainly through the implementation of technology, machine learning, etc, is an opportunity to greatly advance our lives and understanding. However, since reading Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book I have become more acutely aware that not only advancing is possible, but so is destruction.
Let’s start with the ever ubiquitous and wise Siri. Sometimes you have to wonder, how did she get so clever? As Boettcher lays out- it is human-driven. It is data sets, layered one over the other without any second look on potentially outdated, inaccurate, or prejudiced data. Due to word embeddings machines learn at rates incomprehensible to the human brain, but it is possible we are reinforcing beliefs that are far from advanced, current, and humane. Visual recognition technology is also similar, with historically prejudiced roots. Like KODAK. The company in the mid-20th century did not make color cards to help printers develop photographs of African Americans. Why ? – because it wasn’t their market. Did they change? Yes. Why? Because furniture manufacturers and chocolatiers were complaining photographs and advertisements were not accurately depicting the brown shades they needed them too.
And look at Google and their standard ranking algorithm. As I understand it, Google ranks websites based on the number of links each site has. The more links it has, the more relevance is implied. Hence it is supposed to help searchers find the most current and ultimately helpful pages related to their searches. But, just because someone or some site has more links or connections, does that mean they are better? Or is this just a technological networker with lots of show and no substance?
At this point I am just sharing the pieces that stuck out to me in this book. But my overall feeling is disheartening. Machines, for all their current glory, can be dumb, racist, lazy, and blind. This is because humans can be dumb, racist, lazy, and blind. I suggest taking a look at this book or other sources to reorient yourself in the world of Tinder, Yelp, and Facebook.
If anything, take a couple digital detoxes every month, and definitely become familiar with the privacy settings in your favorite apps. Plus those innocuous registration questions! If there is anything limiting you in terms of identity/racial/gender choices, first BREATH and remember the developers in the upper echoleons of these companies are nothing thinking of you, and therefore cannot define you. Second, Tweet about it. LOL NO SERIOUSLY, Tweet about it, it will go viral and perhaps usher a new conversation.