For example, Domingos explained that an algorithm governs how your dishwasher knows when it’s time to transition from washing to drying, or how your car regulates fuel intake and knows when its tank is full while at the gas station, or how shadows appear in a digitally animated movie to perfectly replicate the sun in the real world. “Clearly, every time you interact with the computer, or you’re on the internet, there’s algorithms involved,” Domingos said. “But these days algorithms are also involved in just about everything. 4.
However, that’s not the case when the people who write algorithms incorporate machine learning — a type of artificial intelligence — which leads to the most sophisticated algorithms. “In traditional programming, a human being has to write down every little detail of what the other has to do, and that is very time consuming, very costly,” Domingos said. “Machine learning is the computer discovering its own algorithms instead of being told what to do.
But by giving a program a bunch of images of a cat, and images that are not a cat, and showing the desired endpoint as categorizing a cat image as a cat, the computer can learn to execute that process itself. “It’s the computer learning to program itself instead of having to be programmed by people". “It’s the computer learning to program itself instead of having to be programmed by people,” Domingos said. “This, of course, is extraordinarily powerful when it works, because now you can, you know, create very powerful, very complex algorithms with very little human intervention. ” It’s also very funny when it doesn’t work. 5.
While these are extremely complicated algorithms, at their hearts, they’re still just a set of instructions a computer follows to complete a specified task. “With computers, the algorithm can get vastly more complex,” Domingos said. “Addition is an algorithm that’s defined in a few lines of text.
Algorithms written for computers also have to be extremely precise, often using the instructions “if,” “then,” and “else. ” For example, a self-driving car might run on an algorithm for navigating that says “IF the directions say turn left, THEN turn left. ” See how specific you have to be to make a computer follow a seemingly simple set of instructions?
As early as the Babylonian era, humans were writing algorithms to help them do the mathematical equations that allowed them to manage their agricultural society. “There were algorithms before computers, because you don’t need a computer to execute an algorithm, the algorithm can be executed by a person,” Domingos said.
While we might think of algorithms as mathematical equations, algorithms, according to Domingos, “can compute anything from anything, there might be no numbers involved at all. ” One prominent and extremely complex algorithm is the algorithm that governs the Facebook News Feed.
What’s more, humans create algorithms, which means they can be flawed. “There’s also a lot of misconceptions about algorithms, partly because people don’t really see what’s going on inside the computer,” Domingos said. “A very common one is that people think that algorithms are somehow perfect.
And problems with bias can get even worse with algorithms that utilize artificial intelligence. “In traditional programming you have to worry about the biases of the programmer,” Domingos said. “In machine learning, mainly, you have to worry about the biases that come from the data.
It’s an equation that Facebook uses to determine what pieces of content to show its users as they scroll; in other words, a set of instructions to decide what goes on the News Feed. “There’s no end of things that Facebook could put on your News Feed but it has to choose. “There’s no end of things that Facebook could put on your News Feed but it has to choose,” Domingos said. “And it’s usually a combination of things like how much do you care about the people that produced directly or indirectly that post?
Mashable spoke with Pedro Domingos, a computer science professor at the University of Washington who has also written a book about the ever-growing role algorithms play in our lives.
Algorithms may be imperfect, but they are nonetheless transforming our world. “All these things that we take for granted like the web and social media, and on and on, they wouldn’t exist without algorithms,” Domingos said. “Algorithms are doing for mental work what the Industrial Revolution did for manual work.