Through the centuries and different societies, parents, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and so forth have looked for ways to match and connect compatible partners.
In the process matchmakers utilised the knowledge of their personal networks, experience and intuition to suggest similar and complementary partnerships.
Considered from a decision point of view, the process outsources many aspects of the decision to those that one trusts and respects.
Since the beginning of the century, the matchmaking process has been increasingly supported by algorithms of increased sophistication, operating over data willingly provided by individuals.
The trust into those algorithms seems to be increasing.
The implications of what such algorithms do in the emerging socio-algorithmic realm are starting to get visible.
Predictive algorithms can directly estimate the long-term outcomes of a relationship, based on the characteristics of the individuals.
Experts analysing the processes emerging around online matchmaking and dating point to the implications to the fundamental organisation of family life.
To what extent does a typical user know how these work?
Dating site eHarmony, for instance, explains “how it works” in terms of what one should do on the site rather than how the algorithm uses provided personal data.
The new disruptive revolution
We are capable of easily transferring authority to algorithms, if it seems they do the job well.
They guide our choices.
We even “empower” them to manage us.
The eStore Logistics distribution centre for dispatching online purchases from different stores to individual customers is a socio-technical system, where algorithms optimise the items’ positioning and their journey to minimise the time they stay in the warehouse.
Everything is part of the optimisation process in terms of the operations, including people.
No decisions are left to staff.
Authority to make better, smarter decisions has shifted to the algorithms.
Such scenarios from the new industrial revolution may trigger resemblance with the factory's obsession with time and automation in Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’.
Algorithms are the core of the new disruptive revolution.
If the previous industrial revolutions mechanised production, replacing primarily physical labour and lifting the efficiency, the on-doing disruptive changes of the new revolution are blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, and are enhancing and replacing our cognitive capacities, and labour requiring higher cognition.
Surpassing the biochemical algorithms
There must be a reason why we are relatively at ease with algorithms, handing them information about us and the authority to decide for us.
Jeff Hawkins, the creator of the PalmPilot, suggested in his book On Intelligence an elegant theory that our sensory functions basically rely on a single algorithm, which operates across the structure of our cortex and looks for patterns.
Yuval Noah Harari, a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, takes the algorithmic view further. In his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval describes the organisms as assemblages of biochemical algorithms.
These algorithms “have been shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution”.
Harari argues that there is no reason why the algorithms that we create cannot do the same things or surpass the biochemical algorithms.
Harari, takes Rashkoff’s thesis ‘program or be programmed’ to a new level, envisaging the evolution of our socio-algorithmic realm.
Those who understand the complex algorithmic fabric of the society will be able to shape and control it.
Those who don’t will be the source of the data that power the algorithms.
This scenario may serve very different social and political purposes with substantial ethical implications.
In the example with the matchmaking algorithms, online dating may lead to a society with a stronger family structure.
That will be visible in the next decade.
Algorithms for creating highly accurate photo-realistic videos, where people can change facial expressions, emote, turn their heads, stare and blink, can help re-enacting political leaders in fake videos.
In a society where ‘biochemical’ and ‘non-biochemical’ algorithms interact intensively, the rules of how they mix, complement, integrate, are key to the future socio-algorithmic realm.
According to Harari, we have the capacity to hack the human at the biochemical level, combining the algorithmic power with gene modification technologies like CRSIPR.
In this dynamically evolving landscape, a key task to make the ‘marriage’ work for our prosperity is to ensure the availability of a nation-wide educational program in programmatic thinking.
Such a program will complement the effort in rising our capacity in cybersecurity.
Let’s ensure we are comfortable in the new realm.
Simeon Simoff is Professor of Information Technology and Dean of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics at Western Sydney University. He is a member of the ACS AI and Ethics Technical Committee.
Read the entire AI Ethics series