The Algorithm: a deity or demon in our daily life?


Ed Finn is the founder and director of the Center for Science and the Imagination of the University of Arizona, a hub of intellectuals which brings writers, artists and other creative thinkers into collaboration with scientists, engineers and technologists to reignite humanity’s grand ambitions for innovation and discovery through the productive collaboration between the humanities and the sciences.

It is not surprising that Finn has written the book What Algorithms Want, published by Einaudi in Italy, which explores how the algorithm has its roots not only in mathematical logic but also in the philosophical traditions of cybernetics, conscience and the magic of symbolic language. Algorithms reread, reinterpret and organize reality around us, transforming the complexity of endless choices which we are subject to, into clearer and more transparent interfaces. Thanks to the simplification of algorithms, we move around town, choose a book, a film, a trip, we share content on social networks, listen to a playlist, decide how to change our training or diet.

The author leads us to analyse the gap between theoretical ideas and practical effects, examines the development of intelligent assistants like Siri, the rise of algorithmic aesthetics at Netflix, the virtual satiric game Cow Clicker, the revolutionary economics of Bitcoin, Google's goal of anticipating our needs and intentions, Uber’s cartoon maps, and the exponential growth of Facebook, among other things. Without ever demonizing or divinising those that have become the authentic, often tyrannical protagonists of our lives, Finn argues that we need to build a model for the "algorithmic reading” of reality that can give life to a new experimental humanities.