Thirty years ago, other than mathematicians and computer scientists, most people would not know what an algorithm was. Today, even if we don’t know what mystery number sequences are at play, we are generally aware that algorithms shape our world in a big way. They decide much of what we see and hear, and have the ability to anticipate our interests and influence our political views.
Drawing from io9.com’s list of popular algorithms, here are 10 ways that these calculations influence our lives today.
- What we find: Google PageRank is what accounts for the results of 67% of all internet searches in the US.
- Who you interact with: You don’t decide what updates hit your feed. Facebook’s algorithm does. It ranks ‘popular’ people and aims to keep you in touch with whomever you interact with the most.
- Who you date: OKCupid’s algorithm does more than match common interests, it balances that by analyzing how important a question is to the user and their prospective partner.
- How we are monitored: The NSA has algorithms that monitor our data and movements; making privacy one of the hottest topics of contention today.
- What we discover: A favorite of online stores, the “You may also enjoy…” recommendation is the ultimate virtual up-seller.
- What we trade: In high frequency stock trading, algorithms undertake trades because humans can’t react fast enough to the speed of change. Transactions happen in milliseconds.
- What you are being sold: Google tracks your browsing behavior, search queries and word usage to target ads at your interests.
- How much data we store: Not something I have ever really thought about, but algorithms are what enables us to receive all the media we need in a day without filling up the hard drive.
- How safe we are: IBM’s CRUSH (Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) enables police to evaluate incident patterns throughout a city and forecast criminal “hot spots” so they can allocate uniforms to the right places.
- How music sounds: Cher’s ‘Believe’ is the first song to have used Auto-Tune technology, which basically distorts a sound’s pitch so that even poor singing can be corrected. Explains some of the terrible tunes we get exposed to.