Algorithms (and Your Dog’s Dinner)

Algorithms are rules computers use to make decisions: programmed by people, they can then make decisions that affect many other people.

Story: Your Dog’s Algorithms

If you have a dog, you’ve probably noticed they know exactly when it’s dinnertime. They’ll be right there waiting at the bowl, before you know it.

But how do they know?

Simple – dogs use algorithms, or rules they’ve developed based on their own experience observing your behavior. For example:

  1. If my owner just got home, and has checked her email and watered the plants, then I will get dinner.
  2. If someone’s setting the table for the family to eat dinner, I am about to get dinner.
  3. If that thing on the stove rings, and then I’m asked to sit, and I sit, then I will get dinner.
  4. If my owner says “has anyone seen the dog bowl,” and then I hear the bag of dog food opening, I’m about to get dinner.
  5. If my owners come back home with lots of bags it means they’ll have to unload them all so I wont get dinner right now.

These canine dinner-sensing algorithms can be quite complex. They can be based on all kinds of inputs and variables, just like the algorithms that computers use. Essentially you have programmed your own dog with these algorithms, by teaching him or her exactly what to expect, in a very predictable way.

However, your dog’s algorithms don’t have the same major consequences that computer algorithms do.

Computer algorithms can determine whether you can get a job, get into the college you want, buy a house, meet certain people, or get good healthcare. Those are all pretty important things.

So algorithms are very powerful. And the people and companies who develop them need to be held accountable for these algorithms and their consequences.

P.S… Don’t forget to give your dog dinner.

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