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How Do Algorithms Work? A Basic Primer for Non-Marketers via @CarolynLyden

If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the past few years, you’ll likely have noticed an increase in suspicion amongst ordinary (read: non-marketing) people regarding algorithms, tracking, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.The fear makes sense.When you don’t understand exactly how something works, it can sometimes seem like negative forces are at play when you don’t get exactly what you’re expecting from those programs.For example, President Trump regularly tweets implying that Twitter’s trending topics are biased against him.And, more recently, I saw a comment thread amongst Facebook friends claiming that if you search any 3-digit number and the words “new cases,” you’ll get news about COVID cases with those exact numbers – which to them proved that COVID is a hoax.AdvertisementContinue Reading BelowPolitical and medical affiliations aside, the underlying issue is often that people don’t trust algorithms and machine learning because they don’t have a complete understanding of how they actually work.So let’s go over a basic primer of how these work for things like search, social media, and other common technology applications we use daily.Algorithms Can Still Be BiasedBefore we really dig in, though, it’s important to understand that algorithms, machine learning models, and artificial intelligence can be biased by the programmers who develop them.But, to be frank, they are often biased in favor of those in power or in the majority (as those are often the people creating the machine learning models – and aren’t aware of their own implicit biases).Check out my other piece on Search Engine Journal about this here.Along with the original inputs that affect how these algorithms work, the nature of ML and AI means that the inputs that users contribute also affect the outcomes (we’ll chat more about this in a minute).AdvertisementContinue Reading BelowThis means that the machine learning models learn how we search and use social media and end up customizing our results based on that information.That seems great when we can find the exact pizza recipe we were looking for, but it’s less great when we’re searching for critical information and don’t get unbiased answers from our information
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