Week 5 – Algorithms and Bias

While I may have had a poor understanding of what he was trying to say, I feel like I was able to make a real connection to Rushkoff’s SXSW talk. By referring to things like government and religion as programs, touching on the fact that we build new programs on top of and add code to what already exists, I started to understand the idea of instrumentalism. Our society and culture has become so obsessed with the idea of getting from one point to another that we don’t stop to take in the bigger picture, and Rushkoff makes a point to address this by saying that “if you are not a programmer, you are one of the programmed” because until you understand the systems from the inside, you’ll always just be a player in the game. This is why we program. To gain a better understanding of not only the physical technology we use and the literal code that runs it, but to understand the multifaceted system of cultures and governments that we live in.

Cathy O’Neill’s idea of “weapons of math destruction” was one that I was previously unfamiliar with yet makes a lot of sense when looking closer. Simply put, this concept refers to algorithms around us, not necessarily computer-based but often societal, that can cause great harm to individuals or groups. Though I don’t know the logistics of this algorithm through and through, I know there is one on many, if not all, university campuses in regards to sexual harassment and rape. I cannot speak too matter-of-factly on this, but from anecdotal experience and trustworthy sources I’ve seen in the past (in passing, not while doing research so I can’t remember exactly who or where from), it appears that universities often operate in favor of the accused, easily dismissing cases and providing few to no resources for the victim. Knowing how colleges and universities function, and knowing about Title IX and other important doctrine, this is a failed algorithm that is harmful to those in desperate need.

Admittedly, I’ve had a lot on my plate recently. Between coming down with a stomach bug and having an extremely heavy load from my other classes, I honestly haven’t thought too much about the final project yet. With that being said, there are a few areas I want to dig deeper into and get creative with. Though not completely definite yet, I’m leaning with heavy interest towards putting an emphasis on audio and video for the project. I want to learn how to use programs like FL Studio or Ableton with my MIDI keyboard, both because it’s something I’ve been meaning to get around to, but also because this gives me a reason to push myself to expand these horizons and try these new things. My mom also has a nice Nikon that I’d love to use for photography and video. That’s where the big question comes about that I don’t quite have an answer to yet: what exactly will I do? Not to cause worry, though, as I’m actively in the midst of adjusting my schedule, finding better ways to manage my time and give 100% effort to all classes.

In terms of my coding experience so far, I’d say I have a good grasp of plenty of concepts but also feel like the progress I’ve made is only a drop in the bucket in regards to how much there is to know. I’m actively learning Python in a computer science course, which has been helping me along this journey. The bit of HTML we’ve learned so far has been digestible and easy to work with. I’m hoping that as concepts get more difficult I don’t have too hard of a time understanding them, as there’s some pretty sweet stuff you can do with code. By learning how to code, and by following along with the readings for class, I feel like I’ve been able to make a lot of (potentially geeky) connections to the real world, like how Rushkoff and Montfort talk about programming.