How algorithms come into being

How algorithms come into being

Welcome to AI book reviews, a series of posts that explore the latest literature on artificial intelligence.

As software and algorithms become an increasingly pervasive part of our lives, there’s growing interest and concern on how they are affecting society, the economy, and politics.

Yet, most social studies of algorithms perceive them as obscure black boxes that function autonomously. This isolated look at algorithms, which separates them from their human elements leads us to the wrong understanding and conclusions.

The Constitution of Algorithms, a book by Florian Jaton, Postdoctoral Researcher at the STS Lab at the University of Lausanne, sheds light on the human side of algorithms by exploring them from the inside instead of studying them from afar. Instead of working his way back from a working algorithm and trying to figure out how it came into being, Jaton starts from seemingly unrelated entities, such as people, desires, documents, curiosities, and then studies how all of these come together and interact to form what we call algorithms.

By marrying ethnography and hands-on practice of ground-truthing, programming, and formulating, Jaton discovers all the small but important details and practices that go into creating algorithms. And in his journey, he shows us how we and our algorithms affect each other. Accordingly, his study of the constitution of algorithms can help uncover new directions to align our software with our values.

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