Here’s an interesting set of observations on those UN Women print adverts I posted on Friday.
"Actual Google search on 09/03/13" reads the small print on this poster campaign for UN Women. “When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them” says Christopher Hunt, the Art Director, but the shocking posters have not only raised issues concerning sexism, but also about the accountability of Google autocomplete. The Guardian responded with an ill-informed analysis of the mechanics of the autocomplete algorithm, while a more thorough response has come through the research community in the form of a blogpost by Anna Jobin of the Digital Humanities Lab at EPFL, Lausanne, who’s Phd is about our interactions with Google’s algorithms. When provoking the question ‘who is in charge when algorithms are in charge?’ she states:
I rather suspect a coordinated bunch of MRAs are to be blamed for the volume of said search terms – but that doesn’t mean Google is completely innocent. The question of accountability goes beyond a binary option of intentionality or complete innocence.
Unsurprisingly, Google doesn’t take any responsibility. It puts the blame on its own algorithms… as if the algorithms were beyond the company’s control.
Funny, that.Doesn’t matter who, but when I first proposed a talk about algorithms to TED 3 years ago, there was a gatekeeper who asked, point-blank, who on earth would ever care or even understand what an algorithm is. It required great diplomacy to convince them that maybe a few people would care. It’s possible that by now, this person has been replaced with one.