How Algorithms Will Change Our Lives

Part Three

Taming the beast!

Douglas Rabash

In part one we described the nature and mathematics of algorithms, while in part two the case was made that there can be no turning back from the digital age and its dependency on smart mathematics to predict individual and even national preferences.


As we move deeper into the grey world of algorithms, it is clear that there are also potential challenges associated with using algorithms in policy-making such as coercing biases and errors: Algorithms can be biased or produce errors if they are based on incomplete or biased data or if the algorithms are poorly designed or implemented. Lack of transparency: Algorithms can be complex and difficult to understand, which can make it challenging to assess their accuracy and effectiveness. This lack of transparency can make it difficult to hold policymakers accountable for the decisions made based on the algorithms. Commentators are increasingly conscious of increasing political polarization: Algorithms can contribute to the formation of echo chambers and filter bubbles, which can exacerbate political polarization and limit exposure to diverse ideas and perspectives. Another example is the antivax movement, regarding the rollout of COVID vaccines. Although algorithms can be used to help allocate vaccines more efficiently and target high-risk populations, they can also target doubters and bombard them with misinformation. However, the challenges mentioned earlier, such as biases and lack of transparency, can also come into play and create challenges in ensuring an equitable and efficient rollout.

Political polarization

It’s possible that the increased political polarization in the US could be partly attributed to algorithms, particularly in the context of social media and online discourse. Algorithms can contribute to the formation of echo chambers and filter bubbles, which can limit exposure to diverse viewpoints and reinforce existing biases and beliefs. This can lead to an increase in polarization and a breakdown of civil discourse. However, it’s also important to note that there are many other factors contributing to political polarization in the US and that algorithms are just one piece of a complex puzzle.

Harari’s book

The best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari, has written extensively on the potential impact of algorithms and artificial intelligence on society and the future of humanity. While he has discussed the possibility of algorithms and AI creating “superhumans,” his views on the topic are more nuanced than simply predicting that algorithms will take over humanity. In his books, Harari has argued that the development of AI and algorithms has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of work, society, and even human identity. He has also highlighted the risks and challenges associated with the rapid development of AI and algorithms, including the potential for widespread unemployment, increased inequality, and loss of privacy and autonomy. Regarding the idea of algorithms creating “superhumans,” it’s important to note that this is just one possible outcome, and there are many other potential implications of AI and algorithms that could have significant impacts on society. It’s also important to approach this topic with a critical and ethical perspective, as the development and deployment of AI and algorithms have significant implications for our values, morals, and social structures.

Taming the beast

Having focused on the challenges, what can be done to tame the beast? Transparency is an essential aspect of ensuring accountability and ethical use of algorithms. However, there are concerns that the current level of transparency around the use of algorithms is insufficient, particularly in the private sector.

To address these concerns, some jurisdictions have introduced legal frameworks aimed at increasing transparency and accountability around algorithmic decision-making. For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes provisions that require organizations to provide individuals with meaningful information about the logic involved in algorithmic decision-making and the potential consequences of such decisions. However, there is ongoing debate around the extent to which such regulations are sufficient, and whether more robust legal frameworks are needed. Some argue that regulations should require greater transparency around the development and use of algorithms, including requirements for disclosure of source code, data inputs, and testing methodologies. Others argue that the law should require algorithmic decision-making to be audited for bias and subject to ongoing monitoring and review. Overall, it’s clear that transparency around algorithmic decision-making is a critical issue that requires ongoing attention and debate. While existing legal frameworks represent an important step forward, there is still significant work to be done to ensure that algorithms are developed and used in ways that align with our values and promote human well-being.

Impact of algorithms

The three-part item focused on the impact of algorithms on society and highlighted both the benefits and risks associated with their use. Algorithms have the potential to streamline decision-making processes, improve efficiency, and drive innovation. However, they also raise concerns around privacy, bias, and the potential for unintended consequences. The risks associated with algorithms and artificial intelligence highlight the need for increased transparency, accountability, and regulation. Policymakers should prioritize the development of legal frameworks aimed at increasing transparency and accountability around algorithmic decision-making. This could include requirements for disclosure of source code, data inputs, and testing methodologies, as well as auditing for bias and ongoing monitoring and review. In addition, policymakers should prioritize efforts to address the potential negative consequences of algorithms, including the risk of exacerbating existing inequalities and biases. This could include funding research into the development of fair and transparent algorithms, as well as efforts to educate the public on the potential risks and benefits of algorithmic decision-making. Overall, while algorithms have the potential to transform many aspects of our lives, policymakers must take a cautious and proactive approach to their development and deployment to ensure that they are developed and used in ways that promote human well-being and align with our values.


Five key policies

The Gazette recommends five key policies that Botswana could consider implementing to provide oversight to the application of algorithms: 1. Botswana could create a regulatory framework for algorithmic decision-making that outlines the requirements for transparency, accountability, and data protection. 2. Botswana could establish an independent oversight body to review and audit the use of algorithms in public and private sector decision-making. This body could be responsible for ensuring that algorithms are developed and used in ways that are fair, transparent, and aligned with Botswana’s values and human rights obligations. 3. Botswana could encourage the development of algorithms that are diverse and inclusive by promoting the participation of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups in the development process. This could help to reduce the risk of bias and ensure that algorithms are developed with a broad range of perspectives and experiences in mind. 4. Educate the public about algorithmic decision-making: Botswana could launch public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the potential benefits and risks of algorithmic decision-making. This could help to build trust in the technology and increase public engagement in the regulatory process. 5. Botswana could require organizations that use algorithms to undergo regular auditing and testing to ensure that the algorithms are functioning as intended and are free from bias. This could help to promote transparency and accountability and reduce the risk of negative consequences arising from algorithmic decision-making. These policies could help Botswana to provide oversight to the application of algorithms and ensure that they are developed and used in ways that align with the country’s values and promote human well-being.