Vasant Raval, DBA, CISA, ACMA
Recent years have seen a surge in the use of algorithms. The popularity of algorithms emerges out of the computing power that makes algorithms touch our everyday lives and impact us deeply in many ways. We should remember that the research on algorithms is not a new domain. Just recently, Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth won the Nobel Prize for their research on algorithms that originated with Shapley in the 1950s. Shapley’s algorithm ensured “stable matching,” for example, the matching of men and women for marriage. Roth used that research to address real-world problems. For example, he applied “stable matching” to assign medical school graduates to residencies at hospitals and New York City (USA) students to high schools. The 60 years of effort by these two researchers, who worked independent of each other, has done a lot of good to society at large.
In a brief review of “Algorithms That Run Our Lives,” Bloomberg Businessweek (10-16 September, 2012, p. 87) notes five of the most influential formulas out there: Black-Scholes, Swarm, bin packing, the fast Fourier transform and EdgeRank. To name one, EdgeRank was developed by Facebook to figure out what should appear in your newsfeed. The formulas that dissect our relationships in this manner are the drivers behind the engines of social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and others.
The goodness of algorithms should be acknowledged. However, the attendant risk that their use brings along also requires careful analysis. For example, algorithm-based speed trading of securities in the financial markets and deployment of robots in the health care industry have become major forces in today’s society. In the near future, driverless cars will be added to the list. The impact of what businesses innovate today materially extends far beyond each business’s boundaries. The question is: Who is exposed to these new manufactured uncertainties and how are they going to be protected from them?
Never before in the history of risk have we come to a crossroads as we see now. In the egalitarian age, the societal impact combined with the technological or scientific impact help us to realize that indeed, there is a moral thread to managing risk. Who will take the responsibility to consider in the risk assessment equation this wider universe of impacted societies? Where do we draw the line, for example, on the issues of privacy or protection of intellectual rights in this age of data sharing?
What do you think? On a concrete level, ask yourself: If you were a traffic police officer in 2016 investigating a 10-car pileup in which 9 were driverless vehicles, how would you assess the accountability?
Read Vasant Raval’s recent Journal column:
“Risks and Responsibility
,” Information Ethics column, ISACA Journal
, volume 6, 2012