Welcome to The Algorithmic Bridge
Bridging the gap between algorithms and people. A newsletter about the AI that matters to your life.
Hi! Today I’m launching The Algorithmic Bridge motivated by the realization that my friends and family know very little—or nothing— about artificial intelligence and how it influences our daily lives and the world around us.
This is also the case for most people — maybe that includes you.
With this newsletter, I’ll try to bridge that gap. You’ll learn and become knowledgeable about the AI that matters to you and affects you. If you join me in this journey you’ll begin to understand how AI touches every corner of this increasingly complex world — and how to navigate it better.
You may think knowing about AI is as relevant as knowing about quantum mechanics, fusion energy, or climate science, but nothing further from the truth.
Although AI can be seen as a combination of scientific inquiry and engineering ingenuity, it’s also business applications that are uploaded into your iPhone now and then, social narratives that define the society of today and tomorrow, and political initiatives that more often than not arrive too late — and it’s us, laypeople, who suffer the consequences.
AI is a unique technology in the sense that it’s transversal to all industries and, at the same time, crosses vertically all layers of civilization — from science and culture to business and politics.
You may think of AI as futuristic robots and superintelligence machines, but it’s closer. Much closer. It’s present on all sides of your techno-digital self. Let me explain how.
When you wake up, do you check Twitter or Facebook? Maybe Instagram? The AI behind Social Media is intentionally designed to keep you there — regardless of whether it’s making you feel good or bad. In the early days of Facebook, its main goal was to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” I don’t say this. That was Sean Parker, ex-president at Facebook and one of the key people in the early stages of the company.
When you’re working or studying, you may search for info on Google, or maybe check a tutorial video on YouTube. The ranking algorithms search engines use are powered by AI techniques that decide which websites or vids are worth being on the first page — while all the others get relegated to oblivion.
When you get home and want to relax you may listen to music on Spotify, watch the latest show on Netflix, or check TikTok to stay updated on the latest trends. Those apps, too, manufacture your tastes and provide a means to feed you with unlimited content they know you’ll like — even better than you do.
And it doesn’t stop there. Do you have an Amazon Alexa? Maybe a Roomba? Do you own a Tesla or plan to buy a self-driving car in the future? AI is virtually everywhere… It’s also on the surveillance cameras that surround your city. It’s on the systems that identify you as a good citizen. Hopefully. It’s on the robots that fill the factories where no human works anymore. And it’s on the drones that can autonomously select war targets.
Think of a typical week, how many of these do you interact with?
Think about the effects that AI is certainly having on your life and decide what you want to do with that. Barely 15 years ago, most of the examples I’ve mentioned didn’t exist. What will the world look like in another 15 years?
You use AI and AI is used on you. Being aware of how AI is evolving is now a synonym for knowing how to navigate the world — and it’ll be only more apparent in the years to come.
Do you think you’re ready to navigate this inevitable future?
Let’s walk this journey together!
Why The Algorithmic Bridge now?
Throughout the last years of the deep learning explosion, a week hasn’t passed without a newsworthy breakthrough in AI.
Tech companies around the world are tirelessly working in a race we haven’t seen since the dot-com revolution or the computer wars. First, deep learning revolutionized computer vision, and then language processing and understanding. Now it’s maturing and that means it’s going to exponentially spread beyond elite spaces in Silicon Valley and Academia — and further affect us directly.
Everyone is trying to get a piece of the cake. For some, the goal is artificial general intelligence (AGI) that could compete with us across the whole spectrum of intelligences. For others, the goal is to capitalize on AI’s promises and leverage its efficient problem-solving capabilities in the form of profitable applications.
Others are focusing on sharing knowledge and informing those less versed in the topic about the imminent changes that AI will inflict on the fabric of society. And it’s from this perspective that The Algorithmic Bridge is born. My job is to explore, understand, and curate what’s happening at the low level and bring it to you at the highest level, so you have a better notion of the never-ending developments that are taking place.
The Algorithmic Bridge makes sense now because, regardless of how well-informed I am on the impact AI is having, I find myself struck time and again by how little those around me know about AI. They may think they don’t need to know about AI to navigate the world. I think otherwise.
Why read The Algorithmic Bridge?
Given the ubiquity and closeness of AI, we need to become knowledgeable about it in the same way we’re about traffic rules, basic laws, or social norms.
The difficulty with AI, which distinguishes it from those examples, is that we didn't grow up with AI around us — at least not explicitly. AI has integrated into our daily lives to a high degree only very recently — with the advent of social media, smartphones, and IoT.
This has two consequences.
First, we haven’t developed intuitive ways to interact safely and beneficially with AI — it doesn’t belong to our commonsense to deactivate recommendation systems when they get annoying or delete social media when we feel anxious looking at Instagram. We have to learn it consciously.
Second, because the ways in which AI affects our behavior, emotions, and beliefs are extremely subtle, we have to make an effort to be aware of it — and that makes it harder to understand than say, not crossing when the light is red, not stealing groceries from the store, or not throwing food at the waiter.
The only way to turn the tides in this situation is to make a conscious effort to lift the mask from the words “artificial intelligence.”
That’s what The Algorithmic Bridge is for. To help you understand AI to live a better life now and prepare to navigate the future.
Lifting the mask from the words “artificial intelligence”
The reality behind AI is very distant from its meaning: It’s neither artificial nor intelligent.
The systems that we call AI — that too often make people either hope about a brighter future or fear robots going on killing sprees — are dumb. They don’t understand the world because they don’t have access to it. Their “intelligence” is narrow at best; they can solve simple tasks with impressive accuracy, but that’s about it. They’re getting better at finding patterns in large amounts of data — which is interesting in and of itself —, but they aren’t knowledge-driven, which makes them incomparable to humans. This may change in the future, but it’s the current reality.
And, even more importantly, those systems aren’t autonomous artificial entities that go around making decisions with agency and volition. It’s human scientists who develop the ideas behind the algorithms, it’s human engineers who implement them into code, and it’s companies made of and directed by humans who pay a lot of money to deploy them.
In the strict sense of the word, they’re artificial (i.e. human-made), but we should be careful with interpreting the word “artificial” as if those systems were disentangled from their creators. It’s the people behind the AI models who have all of the responsibility for the eventual consequences. We shouldn’t dehumanize AI because it’s humans who build it and humans who suffer it.
If AI is having such a great impact on our lives, we may as well equip ourselves with better tools for it.
If you agree with this brief analysis on the importance of AI, The Algorithmic Bridge is for you!
What to expect from The Algorithmic Bridge?
I send The Algorithmic Bridge every Tuesday and Friday around 2 pm CET. For now, I’ll keep half of the content freely available.
Free subscribers get, at least, two articles per month. Paid subscribers get, at least, four articles per month and access to the full archive, and the comment section, for $5/month or $50/year.
To get a sense of what you’ll receive, you can take a look at these stories that I wrote on Medium:
Hope to see you around!