Algorithmic Thinking

Algorithms structure computational culture, and many students don’t know what algorithms are or why they matter. Consider teaching students to think about algorithms and, then, to think critically about them. Here are some ways to go about that instruction:



Algorithms of Oppression
Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press, 2018):
In Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.
The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) (UC Press, 2011):
In this provocative book, Siva Vaidhyanathan examines the ways we have used and embraced Google—and the growing resistance to its expansion across the globe. He exposes the dark side of our Google fantasies, raising red flags about issues of intellectual property and the much-touted Google Book Search.
Weapons of Math Destruction cover
Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Crown Random House, 2016):
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination. Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society.

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