Automation and technology have a significant impact on today’s society, which is not always positive. Currently, the world’s population’s lives depend on algorithms heavily, as they are incorporated in all parts of people’s existence. Advancements in the field of technologies can protect individuals’ lives, improve their well-being, and ensure justice. At the same time, they can be used by individuals who want to benefit from them, as the use of algorithms is also associated with possible issues regarding privacy, accountability, and transparency. The book by Hannah Fry illustrates this point by discussing the potential impacts of algorithms on individuals’ lives. The work contributes to our knowledge about the societal implications of digital media, as it presents the debatable point about the possible adverse effects of technology. It addresses the flaws algorithms have and the issues people should be aware of while questioning the powers they have and contemplating about using them for their purposes. This report provides a summary of the book and discusses its connections with course materials.
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Today, people rely on algorithms and technology in many spheres of their lives. We use the Internet for searching for information, communicating with friends and family, and explore new music and films. Individuals purchase items and services through current technologies and rely on them in their decision-making processes. Many people’s lives are so bound on technologies that they start trusting them with insignificant choices. One of the questions Fry’s book answers is: Who would you rather let decide your future – a human or an algorithm? To answer the question, the author guides the reader through the history of technologies and explains their meaning for society. She reports how computers have evolved to be able to win a chess game with a grandmaster and search for abnormal cells in tissues. The book addresses the possible aspects of such a rapid development the world’s population should understand.
As mentioned above, Fry’s book discusses how algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence affect our daily lives, outlining their purposes and meaning for humanity. Throughout the book, she raises questions many would find difficult to answer. For instance, the author points out that some algorithms challenge individuals to define their morality, weigh their expression of emotions, and undermine their democracies (Fry, 2018). It is possible to say that the main point of the book is that although the development of technologies has affected the world’s population positively, people should understand the relationships between humans and machines. The book argues that it is vital for them to question whether algorithms have a net benefit on today’s society and learn to separate potential harm from good. As a mathematician, Fry is passionate about technology, but the main idea of her work is that one should not rely on it too much, as some of its effects may be adverse.
The book offers an insight into how significant algorithms are as part of our lives. The author reflects on the fact that all of our clicks online are tracked and analyzed by corporations and the government, which may use the obtained data for their benefit. Fry (2018) reports that people’s actions have become sources for money, as they help private organizations to understand the needs of their customers. Moreover, the author reports that machines can be used in courts, and, unlike human judges, they are unlikely to consider extenuating circumstances. These issues reveal that the utilization of algorithms in individuals’ daily lives and governmental systems may be challenging, and should not be considered a way to ensure excellent results. After reading the introduction to the book, some may conclude that the implementation of technologies has a severe impact on humans and should be controlled strictly. However, Fry’s work shows that it is only one side of the issue the global population faces today.
It is possible to say that although the book presents the extensive use of algorithms in a generally negative way, the author balances her claims with the reflection on the positive effects of technology and statistics. Fry (2018) shows that the utilization of algorithms is not exclusively negative, as, otherwise, humanity would abstain from implementing them. She reports several benefits of using technologies to aid humans, which will be discussed in detail below. It is also notable that the book is written in simple terms while discussing the topics the general population may not know well. The author aims at conveying her message concisely while offering supporting it with real-life and potential examples and cases. Despite reviewing the use of algorithms from various perspectives, the author inclines to state that humanity should be careful with implementing technology in all aspects of its daily life.
The book consists of seven chapters, including Power, Data, Justice, Medicine, Cars, Crime, and Art. The one about medicine can be considered a particularly significant one for illustrating the author’s main idea. The author addresses both the significance of the use of artificial intelligence in the medical field and the possible adverse outcomes of it. For instance, she reports that algorithms show excellent results in pattern recognition, prediction, and classification, which is highly important for the identification and prevention of diseases (Fry, 2018). Moreover, they can work with many pieces of information simultaneously, and analyze large amounts of data may be challenging for medical professionals. All of these points are significant in the healthcare setting, as doctors should not only work on preventing and mitigating diseases but also provide emotional support to patients, which takes much time. Thus, algorithms can minimize their workload while delivering high-quality results.
At the same time, Fry (2018) reports that there are several challenges associated with the use of technologies in the field. For instance, algorithms cannot substitute doctors because they cannot support patients in social and psychological challenges (Fry, 2018). Moreover, for the fields like pathology, it is highly significant to use the principles of sensitivity and specificity, while algorithms are likely to use only one of them. This problem may result in false-negative and false-positive results. The author reports that technologies based on artificial intelligence tend to flag normal groups of cells as suspicious due to the low level of specificity. As a result, many patients may be negatively affected by the work of algorithms.
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Fry invites the audience to reflect on possible scenarios in the healthcare settings, involving algorithms. For instance, a patient has a cough and goes into the doctor’s office to receive a simple treatment. However, if a machine were serving the individual instead of a human professional, it would probably send the person for an X-ray and a blood test to increase their safety (Fry, 2018). This hypothetical situation shows that the goal of an algorithm, in this case, would be to save the patient and prevent possible related diseases. However, for the individual with a cough, such an approach would be overly complex and even unnecessary. At the same time, a human doctor would be able to prescribe an appropriate treatment without long screening procedures. Another example of disadvantages of the use of algorithms is that it may be challenging to teach a machine how to identify particular problems, which may also result in mistakes. For instance, algorithms can be taught to recognize dogs by their tales or ears, but when a dog sits, they may not be able to see that they belong to these species. The presented scenarios reveal that, in some cases, the utilization of algorithms is unnecessary or may be linked to significant challenges.
The author balances her argument by revealing that the most beneficial case for individuals is the collaboration between machines and humans. For instance, in the field of pathology, algorithms can work to analyze large amounts of data and flag potentially suspicious cases, while medical professionals can investigate the data machines had worked with. This way, it would be possible to avoid medical errors and falsely negative or positive results. Moreover, they can collect and structure existing information, saving medical professionals’ time and helping them to concentrate on other significant tasks. The benefits of algorithms in these cases is that they can narrow down the information pathologists should check later without getting tired. Moreover, the positive side of using algorithms, at least in the medical field, is that they do not make final diagnoses, but aid medical professionals’ decisions.
In summary, Fry’s book is a notable piece contributing to the understanding of how the development of technologies affects today’s society. The author provides strong arguments for her viewpoint, not forcing the reader to change their perspectives on the benefits of innovations. Instead, she insists that algorithms are powerful tools that should be used carefully, and, in some cases, they should not substitute humans. Fry (2018) concludes that humanity should strive to make machines more accurate, intelligent, and less biased while acknowledging that they are not perfect and cannot deliver excellent results. Moreover, the author notes that society should not assume the authority of algorithms; it should be clear that they can make mistakes, too. People should design technologies to support humans in their decisions, not instruct them (Fry, 2018). At the same time, machines should take people into account at all stages of their work. This way, it will be possible to ensure effective collaboration between algorithms and humans.
Fry, H. (2018). Hello world: How to be human in the age of the machine. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.