Outnumbered by algorithms

David J. T. Sumpter, Professor of Applied Mathematics

Mathematics and algorithms play an important role in many aspects of our lives. For example, algorithms can influence the music we listen to, the news we choose to read and our decisions on financial investments. But what are the long-term consequences?

Put simply, an algorithm can be described as a process that collects data to solve a particular problem. Algorithms are used online, for example, to direct information to different target groups. This is something that actors like Facebook and Google exploit to map our personality and interests in order to control which advertisements are sent to individual users, for example. If people express themselves in racist or sexist terms in their posts, this is also reflected in the algorithms and therefore in what shows up on their computer screens. So in fact, it is the algorithms that learn from people, not vice versa. All of this can affect the decisions that we take as individuals and societies.

How far has research on artificial intelligence actually come? We often hear speculation that algorithms and artificial intelligence will soon be more intelligent than humans. In fact, the development of algorithms is still in its infancy. Algorithms are still far from comparable to human intelligence.

A good deal of effort is currently being put into developing algorithms, but less energy is devoted to research on their long-term consequences. We need more knowledge to understand the ways in which algorithms influence our actions and our opinions.

“More research is required to enable us to understand how – and how much – algorithms influence our decisions.”
David J. T. Sumpter, Professor of Applied Mathematics

Contact the Development Office

The Development Office handles gifts and donations, sponsorship and alumni relations. At Uppsala University, you will find interesting and important purposes to support by your involvement and generosity. We would be happy to hear from you and discuss ways in which you can contribute!

Questions about gifts and donations: development@uadm.uu.se
Questions about alumni activities: info@alumni.uu.se

Head of Development Office: Agneta Stålhandske