The Inherent Unpredictability of Algorithms
Manoj Kumar Jena
A HUMAN’S GUIDE TO MACHINE INTELLIGENCE: HOW ALGORITHMS ARE SHAPING OUR LIVES AND HOW WE CAN STAY IN CONTROL by Kartik Hosanagar Viking, 2019, 272 pp., $27.00/ R1919.00
December 2019, volume 43, No 12

The Inherent Unpredictability of Algorithms

Manoj Kumar Jena

A HUMAN’S GUIDE TO MACHINE INTELLIGENCE: HOW ALGORITHMS ARE SHAPING OUR LIVES AND HOW WE CAN STAY IN CONTROL

By Kartik Hosanagar

Viking, 2019, pp. 272, $27.00/ R1919.00

Kartik Hosanagar’s book A Human Guide to Machine Intelligence explores an important dimension of technology in recent times. Hosanagar is a Professor of Technology and Digital Business Studies who critically engages to fathom the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based on algorithms.

The book is shaped in the background of two chatbots Xaiolce and Tay.  Xiaolce is a chat bot created in the avatar of an eighteen-year-old girl by Microsoft Company to entertain people with stories, jokes and casual conversation that was launched in China in 2014. She was a cute personality and attracted 40 million friends on WeChat and Weibo.  After the success of Xaiolce, Microsoft launched Tay in USA in 2016, and suddenly within twenty-four hours it had close to 100,000 interactions with other users. Its tweet, announcing ‘Hello World’ soon turned into extremely racist, fascist and sexist tweets. The algorithm that controlled the bot did something that no one in its programming team expected it to do—it took on a life of its own. Microsoft suddenly shut down the project website. Now, the question is, how could two similar algorithms designed by the same company behave so differently––inspiring love and affection in the case of Xaiolce, and hostile prejudice in the case of Tay?

In this context, Hosanagar’s concern is to comprehend how Artificial Intelligence represented a certain kind of opportunity for human progress and also unpredictability and threat. And hence, ‘What steps should be taken by the end users?’ Therefore, this book addresses three questions. Firstly, what causes algorithms to behave so unpredictably, in biased and potentially harmful ways? Secondly, if algorithms can be irrational and unpredictable, how do we decide when to use them? Thirdly, how do we as individuals, who use algorithms in our personal or professional lives as a society, shape the narrative of how algorithms impact us?

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