How Algorithms Rule our Lives and What Businesses, Consumers, and Citizens can Do

How Algorithms Rule Our Lives and Whether That is Necessarily a Good Thing

We live in the Age of the Machine and the Era of the Algorithm.

Right from our news feeds on which we depend on to know what’s happening in the world around us that are curated by Algorithms, to the Social Media feeds that are driven by AI (Artificial Intelligence), to our consumer choices online that are dictated by Big Data driven Analytics, and even our home appliances that can now be connected with gadgets such as Amazon Alexa, our lives are now ruled by Algorithms.

This Algorithmic driven existence of ours has implications for decision making by businesses, formulating policies by the government, shaping consumer behavior for consumers, and above all, the overarching power of the Machine in making decisions on behalf of the citizenry.

Indeed, the fact that our lives now are entirely taken over by the Algorithms raises questions about privacy, security, and the end of Agency or Free Will as far as leading our lives is concerned.

This is the reason why many experts now are gloomier than before when they initially heralded the rise of Algorithms as leading us into a New World and are now worried whether such power by machines is like a Monster that is devouring its creator.

Where Algorithms and Technology Delivers Benefits to Humanity

Having said that, it is also the case that superior machine learning and machine driven businesses as well as citizens derive greater value from Algorithms as far as Optimal Outcomes regarding decision making and societal good is concerned.

For instance, automation has made it possible for the average citizen to get his or her certificates (birth, death, property, and others) easily whereas in the past, they had to run from pillar to post circling the governmental agencies responsible for delivering them.

Indeed, automation and Algorithmic driven social services have contributed to better governance and better civic administration, especially in developing countries where initiatives such as the Aadhar Card in India have sparked a revolution in the Delivery of Welfare schemes and disbursement of subsidies.

In addition, cutting edge technologies have placed the entire world within reach of the consumers who now can order products from anywhere, anytime, and get them delivered to their doorsteps in a hassle free manner.

Above all, corporate decision makers now have more information and more knowledge and data about their firms and hence, are better placed to make optimal decisions regarding their businesses.

The Flipside of Machines Taking Over from Humans

On the other hand, there is also the downside of machines taking over and overriding the wishes and the commands of the humans who are supposed to be in charge.

If you invest in equities and play the Stock Market, you would be aware of the numerous Flash Crashes wherein the automated and AI driven Algorithmic trading sometimes leads to wholesome market crashes wherein a single keystroke from a Fat Finger trader can lead to catastrophic falls in market capitalization.

More recently, there have been Air crashes and other tragic incidents where the overweening power of the Algorithms and Machines points to a Future Scenario wherein humans are made redundant and obsolete.

Already Millions of workers and even White Collar professionals have been laid off worldwide as automation leads to them being obsolete.

In addition, the increased instances of cybercrime and hacking leads to questions about whether our personal data is indeed safe and secure.

Thus, there are critical downsides as far as letting Algorithms rule our lives is concerned and while experts might ever that Technology is Value Neutral, there are signs that the delicate balance between man and machine is now tilting towards the latter.

The Ethical, Moral, and Social Implications for our Algorithmic Driven World

An often overlooked aspect of letting Algorithms rule our lives are the Ethical, Moral, and Social aspects.

In recent months, there have been several news reports that have reported how Amazon uses an AI driven Recruitment Tool that is “biased” against ethnic and racial minorities as far as screening resumes and selecting potential candidates for interviews are concerned.

This has serious implications for our future as the victims cannot even complain as they could have done earlier when recruitment was driven by humans and not machines.

In addition, there have been studies that reveal how Algorithms delivering welfare benefits to the underprivileged in the United States are skewed against some categories of recipients that raise questions of social injustice.

Apart from this, some researchers have found that Algorithms in the Insurance and other allied sectors are programmed to deny payouts as far as possible which are again a moral issue since they cannot deny relief to a suffering patient even after her or she had contributed to the premiums.

Indeed, while these incidents have not received the level of attention that they deserve in the mainstream media, they cannot be overlooked as aberrations and instead, it would be better to address the underlying issues raised by them.

Need for Debate

Lastly, while our lives have been made easier due to the Algorithm driven existence, we must ask at what cost and whether the benefits are worth the cost.

On the other hand, this is no reason for us to abandon the Algorithmic world that we live in. Therefore, there needs to be an honest and frank debate and assessment of the pros and cons and a clear headed approach to determining whether we should proceed down the path we are in.

To conclude, it is not too late to have such a discussion by all the stakeholders and sooner the better for our collective future.

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