If you were waiting for someone to tell you when computers became more intelligent than us, take care.
There will be no soft voice like HAL 9000 (the computer of the spaceship from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”), to inform us that our human services are no longer needed.
In reality, our electronic masters are already taking control, and they are doing it in a much more subtle than suggested by science fiction.
His weapon: the algorithm.
Behind all ingenious web service is a web code even more ingenious: from online wholesalers (who calculate what books and films we might be interested in buying) to the Facebook friend finder service and tag images, via search engines that guide our steps on the web.
Are these invisible computational processes that increasingly control how we interact with our electronic world.
At last month’s TEDGlobal conference, algorithm expert Kevin Slavin gave one of the most powerful speeches of the event, in which he warned that “maths that computers use to decide stuff” was infiltrating every aspect of our lives .
Other examples mentioned those robotic cleaner that maps the optimal route to clean a house and financial algorithms used in online stock trade, which increasingly take control of Wall Street.
“We’re writing these things that we are not able to read,” said Slavin.
“We have become illegible. And we’ve lost track of what exactly is happening in this world we have created.”
The book of the millions
The algorithms can be more creative than humans, but do not necessarily share our sense of perspective: a failure that was evident when the code that assigns Amazon price went to war with itself earlier this year.
” The Making of a Fly “(” The Creation of a Fly “), a book about the molecular biology of a fly, from larva until it becomes a full insect can be an interesting read, but it certainly does not deserve Priced at U.S. $ 23.6 million.
That is the figure reached for a moment, because the algorithms that Amazon uses to set and update prices started to compete.
It’s a small sample of the chaos that can cause that a program becomes smart enough to operate without human supervision, create Slavin.
“They are in conflict algorithms, without adult supervision,” he said.
As the code becomes more sophisticated, their tentacles are reaching all aspects of our lives, even our cultural choices.
The algorithms of the movie rental site Netflix already account for 60% of the movies that are requested by their customers, as we become less dependent on our own abilities reviews and word of mouth and more than Slavin calls “Physical Culture”.
How much for that movie?
The British company is taking this concept Epagogoxi to its logical conclusion: uses algorithms to determine whether a movie will be successful.
Take a number of variables (the script, the plot, the stars acting in it, location) and intersects sales data from other similar films to determine how much money will generate.
The system, according to company CEO Nick Meany, has “helped the studios to decide whether or not a movie.”
For a project, which had been allocated a budget of nearly $ 300 million, the algorithm estimated that only raise roughly $ 50 million, so it simply was not worth it to start production.
For another movie star face determined that the study was shortlisted for the leading role not only give results if summoned to a lesser-known figure.
This rather clinical approach has irked those who believe that opposes his idea that your favorite movies have been made in a more creative, organic.
Meaney is quick to mention that the algorithms do not have a role as protagonist in Hollywood.
“Movies are made for many reasons and we assign more influence than we actually have when we say that we decide what films are produced.”
“We do not say what has to be the plot. Study using our data as a valuable business information. Helping people to make difficult decisions, and why not?” He said.
Despite this, the study that Epagogix has worked for the past five years asked not to be named. Meaney says it is a matter “delicate”.
A memory in the network
If algorithms had a Hall of Fame, the main star would be Google.
His famous secret code has launched search giant to its current position as one of the world’s most powerful companies.
Nobody doubts that the system has made the act of searching for something much easier, but critics wonder long at what cost.
“ordered and finite set of operations that can find the solution of a problem “
Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy
In his book ” The Filter Bubble “(” The Filter Bubble “) Eli Pariser was asked to what extent the Google algorithm collects our personal data and shaping, consequently, to the web we see.
Meanwhile, psychologists at the University of Columbia, United States, recently presented a study showing that the increasingly frequent use of search engines is changing the way humans think.
“Since the introduction of search engines are reorganizing the way we remember things. Our brains rely on the Internet as a source of memory, just as we rely on the memory of our friends, family and colleagues,” said the author work, Betsy Sparrow.
She says that more and more we remember where to find some information rather than the information itself.
In financial markets, software is becoming the main actors, with their data processing algorithms to decide what to buy and what to sell.
Up to 70% of trade on Wall Street calls executed by black box (black boxes) or algo-trading (trading based on algorithms).
This means that with the wise guys of the stock market, banks and securities firms employ thousands of physicists and mathematicians wise.
But until the accuracy of the machines, powered by human magicians code is unable to ensure that things run smoothly.
In the so-called Flash Crash (sudden collapse) of 6 May 2010, a drop of five minutes in the markets generated a time of widespread chaos.
A dishonest operator was accused of a 10% drop in the Dow Jones, but the culprit was actually a computer program that the operator was using.
In just 20 minutes the algorithm sold 75,000 shares worth U.S. $ 4,300 million, so that other algorithms follow.
As a member bionic can extend human strength and endurance, the electronic market showed its ability to exaggerate and accelerate minor variations.
Nobody has been able to determine exactly what happened, and the market recovered minutes later.
The chaos forced regulators to introduce circuit breakers to halt trading activity if the machines start misbehaving.
The algorithms of Wall Street may be the cyber equivalent of yuppies of the ’80s, but unlike humans do not require silver cufflinks, cigars and champagne. What they want is fast connections.
Spread Networks has been building one such fiber optic connections, capable of reducing by 3 microseconds exchange of information between exchanges in Chicago and New York, distant 1.327km.
Meanwhile, a transatlantic fiber optic cable, which runs from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Somerset in the UK, is being deployed for stock algorithms can operate and be able to send shares from London to New York in 60 milliseconds.
“We are touring the United States with dynamite and rock cutting saws, and an algorithm can close the deal three microseconds faster, all for a communications system that no humans ever touch,” said Slavin.
As algorithms spread their influence beyond machines and become able to transform their environment, may become determining exactly how much you know and if there is still time to tame.