Will big data algorithms soon control our lives?

By Stephan Manning.

Just a few decades ago it was unthinkable that a computer could ever be as smart as a human. But in 1996, the super-computer Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, and in early 2017 Google’s AlphaGo defeated the best human player in Go. In his fascinating new book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete. Even today, it just takes 150 Facebook likes for psychometrics software such as Cambridge Analytica to know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself.  All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to better target their voters. But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to directly link a human brain to the Internet – creating the first ever ‘Brainternet’. Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?

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Gathering String – Academic Conferences and Serendipity

By Keshav Krishnamurty.

Conferences are funny things. I was at the Eastern Sociological Society conference at the Boston Park Plaza this year, which proved to be fairly informal, friendly, and with a substantial number of undergrads presenting interesting new work. I have been to multiple management conferences before and although I am not quite a “conference junkie”, I can already see how each conference has its own “flavor”. Even relatively boring conferences sometimes tend to have rather interesting people turn up, and getting to meet them is an experience worth remembering.

Being the organizations nerd that I am, I’m also familiar with what the literature says about the benefits of conferences. More papers and articles than I can possibly list talk about how the networking opportunities provided by a conference help students – as the answers to this question at ResearchGate demonstrate – whether it’s in terms of finding future job opportunities, in terms of knowing future colleagues and superiors to recommend you and your work, or how meeting colleagues from different universities and therefore being exposed to new knowledge, new perspectives and new collaborations, leads to greater creativity. There is advice on how to network more easily at conferences, tips on conference productivity and for those who don’t like conferences much, there is even advice on how to make conference networking feel less ‘icky’. Overall, I do know, more or less, what to expect from a conference when I go into one. However, the Eastern Sociological Society conference resulted in something that I had not expected….  Continue reading