The social powers of algorithms – bright and dark sides
Algorithms are everywhere. They decide what is relevant when we search the Internet, which friends we should have, which partner we should ask on a date, and which road we should take. But they are also increasingly good at translating documents, detecting cancer in diagnostic images, etc.
The goal of these lectures is to introduce students to the social impact that algorithms are having on our lives. Students will learn about the enormous power that is concentrating in the hands of the few companies that controls the algorithms and the total lack of transparency that surrounds them. Furthermore, they will learn how the growing complexity of algorithms is such that even their authors are not able to control them anymore.
At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to discuss the impact that algorithms are having on the society and the economy, and understand why the legislative systems has difficulties keeping up with the recent advances of algorithmic applications.
Course Content Summary
- What is an algorithm? Why every citizen should know what an algorithm is?
- The blackbox society and the lack of transparency
- The social power of algorithms and their impact on society
- Algorithms and economics
- Algorithms and legislative systems
Lectures and teamwork
The following texts are available in the Polo Ferrari library. Students will be required to read papers available online, that will be provided during the course.
- Frank Pasquale. The Black box society: the secret algorithms that control money and information. Harvard University Press (2015)
- Cathy O’Neil. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Penguin (2017)
- Safiya Umoja Noble. Algorithms of oppression. New York University Press (2018)
- David Beer, ed. The social power of algorithms. Routledge (2018)