The Power of Algorithms and Algorithmic Power: Conceptualizing Machine Intelligence and Social Structure

1 Mar 2018
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

190 Doe Library

Event Type

Zeynep Tufekci
Associate Professor of the School of Information and Library Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

It’s been just five years when a paper about neural networks—a form of computer learning algorithm that uses large datasets to learn to classify input—broke through to popular press. Google researchers connected 16,000 computers and set this network loose on millions of images from YouTube—without supervision. The system invented the concept of a cat, and how to identify it. Since then, there has been an explosion in decision-making software that functions in a similar fashion: churning through large datasets to learn to identify and classify, without being given specific instructions on how to, and perhaps more importantly, without the human programmers having an understanding of how it actually functions. Such machine learning systems are no more interpretable to their programmers or any observers than a cross-section of my brain would be on my decision about what to have for lunch. The era of machine intelligence is fully here, and accelerating. Much of the engineering world and scientific press has focused on whether such intelligence is like human intelligence, of it ever will be. In this talk, I will instead explore what having such types of intelligence at the hands of power—governments, corporations, institutions—means. These systems bring about novel capabilities to the powerful at scale, threaten to displace many human tasks (because they can perform those tasks well enough), create new forms of privacy invasion through their inferential capabilities, introduce new error patterns we have neither statistical tools nor cultural or political institutions to deal with, incentivize massive surveillance because they only work will with massive datasets, and more. I will explore some of the technical aspects of these technologies because they matter—just the fact that we largely use fossil fuels to run our cars and industries has so many sociological and political consequences—but will connect them directly to core questions of sociology, culture and politics. This event is co-sponsored by CITRIS and BIDS.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  BIDS • CITRIS

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