Every time we check our Twitter timeline, pick a Netflix title or use GPS navigation in our car, we interact with algorithms. Yet, most of us have no idea what they are — or how they practically influence the way we live every day.
Think of algorithms like a recipe for a computer. They tell the computer what to do to produce a specific outcome. That outcome may satisfy your query or desire for a moment, but this doesn’t mean it’s right for you. To further explain this, here are some ways algorithms take a mysterious but critical role in your life.
Algorithms emulate compatibility
Dating apps have changed the way we date. Just swipe left and right, and you can quickly narrow down your options to find that ideal match. Some apps use basic algorithms, such as matching you with a person whose age or location fits the range you’ve specified in your app settings. Other apps are more elaborate, asking users to answer extensive questionnaires to collect information they can use to simulate better matching.
However, the problem with dating apps or algorithms is they don’t understand the context. They don’t understand emotions the way humans do. Sure, they only “suggest” matches, and you can still talk to those matches to see if you’re compatible with them. But do these apps really make dating fast and efficient? Or do they hinder the opportunity for people to build more genuine and deeper connections?
Algorithms could cause market crashes
In Wall Street, some trading operations use algorithms to achieve automated processes. In principle, algorithms provide greater speed and precision, but sometimes, they can also cause problems. Unlike a financial planner or advisor who assesses all available information before recommending a viable move to a client, algorithms make automated financial decisions, without humans reading crucial news and reports. And this could lead to irrevocable consequences that may affect individuals or, worse, cause market crashes.
Algorithms force us to buy things we don’t need
Do you think you ordered that new bag or pair of shoes on impulse? You can also blame algorithms. Nowadays, through algorithms, advertisements target the right audience at the right moment. What kind of blogs do you like to read? What do you usually post on Facebook or Instagram? What did you recently search on Google? The online networks compile this information and, through the use of algorithms, allow marketers to display ads on your screen that will likely catch your attention.
Algorithms disable our ability to stop
Besides the endless scrolling and video auto-plays, YouTube and Netflix’s algorithms disable our ability to stop digital indulgence. In particular, Netflix relies on algorithms not only to curate the titles but also to customize thumbnails. The algorithms evaluate the past titles you either watched or clicked but didn’t finish to determine title thumbnail that will most likely compel you to click on it. The next thing you know, it’s 4 AM, and you haven’t stopped watching movies and TV series on Netflix.
Now that you’re more aware of the role of algorithms in your life, you can be more mindful in every decision you make. It’s fun to do Netflix marathons, but don’t let it ruin your sleep. A dating app won’t harm you as long as you treat it as such, not something or someone that fills your emotional void. Algorithms may influence our daily lives, but we still have the upper hand on how much it can control us.