Anticipating Algorithms

Algorithms, sequences of steps to resolve a problem or achieve a task, enable the Web to work but also pose major challenges, according to Pew Research Center (PRC)’s Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age. PRC surveyed 1,302 technology experts and found 38% seeing algorithms as net positive; 37% as net negative; and 25% seeing them as 50/50 positive/negative. PRC summarizes seven themes based on the experts’ qualitative responses. In general, they believe algorithms will spread everywhere and bring new benefits, but they demand new types of literacy. Algorithms have the potential to reduce the need for human judgment, extend bias, deepen divides, and will increase unemployment.

In business, algorithms demonstrate potential to optimize operating models, improve forecasting, reduce back office work and make an organization faster and smarter. Strategists, however, should take heed of the potential downsides about bias and deepening divisions. We also know that behind every big data set is human beings, who often put in non-standardized or even garbage data that can lead algorithms astray. In the future, we will increasingly have to direct algorithms to become the optimal supplement to human activity and judgment, not its replacement.

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