The algorithms did it

Over the weekend, I read a piece on algorithms running the city of Washington DC. Articles like this frustrate me in their ability to take a word that once felt clear and make it crowded and confusing. Algorithm even when used correctly represent such a broad and vast definition that using the word necessitates a pause.

I can write an algorithm that lets you determines if a number is even or odd:

`function isEven(x:uint):Boolean{
  if(x!=0 && x/2==2){
    return true; 
  } else{ 
     return false; 

That is an algorithm, a set of instructions that solve a problem.

Guess what? Alexa, Siri, and Google Search are built on algorithms. Do you know what else is? A calculator, a light switch, a TV remote. The number of algorithms we interact with daily is so massive that it may be uncountable. Pointing to a algorithm is like pointing to a singular and in a colony of millions.

Any large system includes millions and millions of lines of code, many almost certainly rely on code written by other third-party developers, all focused on solving different types of problems.

Articles that cite algorithms feel incorrect and morph the meaning by making the nature of math or development to be the issue. Developers write code that make simple and complex decisions based on product plans and designs. Those designs say what we anticipate a system to do and provide criteria to determine if it does what we ask. Code written and designed well will not lie. Could the code or a rouge programmer cause issues? Yes, but many times the true design decisions are made on purpose.

If I want an application to find me, candidates, I need to establish criteria for a good candidate. To build a search engine that returns excellent results, I must first define what makes a great search result. This criteria is always subjective, and this is the actual question. Should we fear the mountain of algorithms or acknowledge that company-designed software is purposefully built to do something?

Let’s not blame the algorithm and ask if the results we see may be as we configured or designed.