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The Omnipotent Algorithm Fallacy and Other Misconceptions We Have About These Systems

SEAN GLADWELL (Getty Images)

When Sun Tzu remarked on The Art of War the need to know one's enemy well, there were no computational algorithms to worry about. Two millennia later, we have seen them assign greater possibilities of recidivism to prisoners from minority groups, fire 150 people in one second and even participate in armed conflicts. And we don't know them. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Amsterdam with a sample of 2,106 people has found that more than half of the respondents accept that algorithms are independent of human activity, have no bias, have the same level of critical reasoning and intelligence as humans, and they will replace us. A not insignificant 43% believe that these systems can solve “all the problems of society”.

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“We wanted to know if people have a correct idea of ​​what algorithms are and what they do, because they come across them every day: on social networks, on their phones, when they watch TV … ”, explains Brahim Zarouali, a researcher focused on the study of persuasive communications and technologies. What they did not expect was to find such a level of ignorance. “This seemed really alarming to us,” he says. In addition, the phenomenon is more pronounced in certain demographic groups, with these misconceptions more prevalent among older people, those with lower levels of education, and women.

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