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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Adjusting Algorithms

Algorithm, Malgorithm, Jalgorithm?   Fairness in Judgement. 

Right, algorithm just means a standardized method.    Like iany tool can be used or misused. Good piece here.

Misnomer and MalgorithmBy Robin K. Hill  in CACM

In response to a previous piece on the articulation of design responsibility [Hill2018], by which I mean the egregious practice of casually attributing judgment and volition to programs, I've received some comments. My view is that the attribution, in our locutions, of decision-making power to certain applications of programs and algorithms is wrong in both senses of "wrong"—both false and harmful.

The most obvious, and most misleading, instance of malarticulation is the trending use of "algorithm". One or two comments mentioned the common modern use of that word to mean an agent that makes (bad) judgments, giving rise to claims that that technology is not value-neutral. The concern is valid but the connotation hangs on context, and the implications of the literal assertion are dangerous. "Oh, well, sure," educated people will say, "We agree that tech is technically neutral." Yes, it's technically neutral. In fact, technically, it's nothing more than technical, and therefore nothing more than neutral.

This needs to be cleared up. Computer science knows the algorithm as an objective computational object, breathtaking and beautiful, an abstract imperative structure (so I claim [Hill2016]), deterministic and independent of context. I will call this objective procedure, a mechanism that performs calculations under a decision structure, the i-algorithm; maybe we can think of the i as "imperative structure". But the public knows the algorithm as a mysterious agent making dubious decisions, a source of judgments, supposed to be reasonable, on complex issues in real life. I will call this subjective procedure the j-algorithm; we can think of the j as "judge". These are homonyms but not synonyms, and we understand that. Computer scientists, told that an i-algorithm is political, simply code-switch to the homonym j-algorithm, the thing that assesses parole requests and loan applications (poorly), in order to continue the communication. This communication infelicity is not new—scientists have to put up with "bug", "exponential", "schizo", and other abuses of terminology. The problem with "algorithm" is that the two senses of the word are, in a way, contradictory, and in exactly the way that matters.  .. " 

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