Algorithms: The Future That Already Happened

MAY 31, 2016ONE DAY IN LATE MARCH, Microsoft made a chatbot named Tay. Tay began the day tweeting love to everyone. A few hours later, Tay was quoting Adolf Hitler and offering filthy sex on demand. To borrow a phrase from John Green, Tay fell in love with Hitler and filthy sex the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. That’s because Tay learned from humans, and humans are awful. Machine-learning algorithms try to make sense of human activity from the data we generate. Usually these algorithms are invisible to us. We see their output as recommendations about what we should do, or about what should be done to us. Netflix suggests your next TV show. Your car reminds you it’s time for an oil change. Siri…

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