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How to wrench open the black box of algorithms that decide our fate

There is a decision being made about you in this box. But you’re not allowed to look inside — and even if you could, it wouldn’t tell you much.

There are countless black boxes, just like this one, making decisions about your online and offline lives. Some of them are pretty benign, like recommending what movie you should watch next. But others decide the news you see, who you go on a date with and how much money you can borrow. They also determine whether you get a job, if you’re a potential shoplifter and what route you should take to the shops.

In extreme cases, they have been used to ‘predict’ teenage pregnancies and cut welfare entitlements for people with disabilities.

These boxes all contain algorithms, the decision-making machines that are creeping into areas of increasing consequence to all of our lives. It can feel pretty impossible to understand exactly what these algorithms are doing, let alone keep them in check. However, as you’ll see, there are creative and powerful ways to shine a light into these black boxes. The trouble is, we can only use them if their owners — mostly corporations and governments — will let us.


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