Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How algorithms control your life


Algorithms are choosing the movies we watch, the people we date and the news we read. Stuart Turton investigates how they’re taking everyday decisions out of our hands.

Imagine a shotgun blast scattering birds from the trees, their indignant squawks fading into the clear blue sky. That’s pretty much what happens when you toss the word “algorithm” at major tech companies. In happier times, they paraded their algorithms before us like proud parents, explaining how their little bundles of decision-making joy improved Google searches, filtered the boring from Facebook and made memories on OkCupid. Unfortunately, it turns out that the kids have a wild streak. In the past few months, they’ve been accused of censoring newsfeeds and tampering with our emotions - oh, and rigging the stock market.

Here, we reveal how far the algorithmic tendrils have spread through society, investigating whether companies are neglecting their ethical responsibilities, or whether we’ve simply misunderstood the technology underpinning this brave new world.

What is the cloud?


You hear a lot about ‘the cloud’, but how does it actually work?

The term ‘cloud’ implies something that’s above your head, but in reality the data that you upload is likely to be stored very much at ground level or even underground, and probably thousands of miles away from your location. A cloud service is actually a cluster of computers: more accurately, a huge number of servers with vast amounts of hard drive storage attached. It’s a natural evolution of the technology behind the internet itself and has come about largely thanks to rapid improvements in global bandwidth and the plummeting price of storage capacity.