We live in a data driven world. When computers made their emergence in the mainstream, society generally viewed them as a convenience that would ease the process of problem solving and decision making. Today, computers are often making decisions for us, and frequently in ways that we cannot immediately detect. Slave to the Algorithm reveals this disturbing trend that endangers our perceptions, livelihoods and freedoms.
An algorithm is essentially an equation for success. This computer code measures strands of statistical data, and produces a profile that estimates a desired end result. Advocates claim that such algorithms are essential to ensuring success in business, advertising and social institutions. It all comes down to the infallible neutrality of mathematics, they claim. But what if the data itself is biased?
Algorithms creep up in almost every aspect of our public life. On the industry side, it's a useful tool for maximizing profitability. In profiling the perfect consumer of a specific product, companies can potentially increase their earnings even when the data isn't wholly accurate.
But when the stakes are higher, the practice takes on more nefarious implications. Such is the case with one of the film's beleaguered subjects, a convict who was threatened with a much longer prison sentence based on a risk assessment algorithm. By removing the human factor from the most profound life-altering decisions, we could easily become slaves to incomplete or biased data streams.
Never is this more apparent than in our social media platforms. In this era of international election espionage and fake news, the Facebook algorithm has garnered the most scrutiny in recent years. The film exerts its focus on the social media giant, as data researchers struggle to untangle the mysteries of its highly influential algorithms. In its quest to increase engagement, the company has been criticized for spreading massive quantities of incendiary misinformation and for tarnishing the tone of our social discourse.
Slave to the Algorithm provides valuable insights into an insidious reality. It's an issue that touches all of us in one form or another, and could ultimately jeopardize our constitutional rights and way of life.
Directed by: Martijn Kieft